Tommy Rees knows there's work to be done

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Like most who have watched Notre Dame this season, Brian Kelly sees the good and the bad Tommy Rees has done through four weeks.

"You could put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year," the second-year head coach said. "And you could also put together a blooper film. And so it's really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. And a lot of that is learning and experience, and that's where we're in."

Rees turned the ball over twice Saturday at Pitt, fumbling it deep in his own territory in the first quarter and throwing an interception in the end zone in the second quarter. He alone has accounted for nine of the Fighting Irish's nation-leading 15 turnovers, and he didn't even play in the first half of the first game of the season.

But almost every coach's criticism about the sophomore is immediately followed by the end result -- his 6-1 record as a starter, which could have been worse if not for his perfect fourth quarter in Saturday's comeback, which saw him complete all nine of his passes and battle through a Pitt defense that negated Michael Floyd for most of the game.

"At the end of the day, winning is the most important thing," Rees said. "But you need to stay productive and you can't put yourself, you can't put your team in situations where the game can go either way. As individual performances, you wanna be sharp, be good. But if you're winning, you can't complain too much. Like I said before, I'm pretty tough on myself. I know where I need to improve. I look forward to keep getting better and eliminating some of those mistakes."

In an ironic twist Wednesday, Week 1 starter Dayne Crist was named one of 25 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the nation's outstanding quarterback. Crist, of course, was yanked at the half of the Irish's 23-20 Week 1 loss to South Florida.

The staff this week said the two still split most of the reps at about a 60-40 ratio, with Rees seeing more action. Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix have seen some situational action on the practice field as well.

Rees spoke several hours after the Unitas announcement Wednesday, three days after Kelly reiterated that he would remain the starter, though the head coach is hoping he doesn't have to answer the same kind of questions next season.

"That's this year," Kelly said. "We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing. But he is learning. He's got, some of the body of his work is really good and some of it needs great improvement. And he knows that, I know that and we believe that he's capable of being more consistent for a longer period of time."

Rees, who has thrown for 988 yards this season with seven touchdowns and six interceptions, said he focuses more on his negatives in the film room.

"Well, obviously it's not a secret, I need to cut down some of the turnovers and some of the mental mistakes," he said. "I think each week with different defenses and different situations I keep growing as a player. The last two games we come out with wins, so you can't be too upset after those. But after every game there's places where you can improve. I think just the more experience, the more games that come, I can keep developing things and work on limiting some of those mistakes."

That includes protecting the ball with two hands in the pocket or taking a sack when there is no other option downfield.

For his part, however, Rees isn't judging himself differently as a 19-year-old.

He has started seven games and finished two more, and he knows whatever learning curve he had has come and gone one-third of the way through the season.

"I think the whole being a sophomore thing isn't really that relevant anymore," Rees said. "I need to improve how I'm playing and keep getting better. It can't be a matter of age or experience. I need to be the quarterback for this football team and I need to make sure I'm limiting my mistakes and playing up to my capabilities."