The elder statesman: Tommy Rees

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Late in Notre Dame's first full-pads practice of the spring Saturday, Tommy Rees took a snap, broke off and ran.

And ran. And ran some more.

Rees' red jersey kept him from getting hit on his roughly 40-yard burst down the right sideline, which ended with him being "forced" out of bounds. Nonetheless, the sight turned the heads of many, considering Rees gained just 39 rushing yards in all of 2011 and actually netted negative-56 rushing yards after accounting for sacks.

So, was that a glimpse of the new Rees?

"I don't know," the junior cracked, adding, "It opened up pretty well for me. I'm gonna be honest, I didn't expect to get that far down the field. I was a little tired at the end of it."

Yes, Rees knows he needs to make more plays by running. Or, at the very least, extend more plays by running.

And no, he does not have a problem with the fact that his 16 career starts -- 16 more than any other quarterback on the roster -- are not being catered to this spring, which began with all four signal-callers starting from Page 1 of the playbook.

"If you hand the full playbook to those guys they'd be spinning, so I understand where they're coming from," Rees said. "It also can give me an advantage because I've run it so much that I should be the most comfortable with it. I should be the guy that understands what we're putting in.

"I think it's probably the right way to do it, to help everyone out, even the receivers, running backs learning new positions, just trying to get the whole offense clicking before we put in so much and guys' heads would spin, and now by scaling back we can execute things even better."

Rees took over for Dayne Crist midway through 2010 and again after the first half of the 2011 opener, compiling a 12-4 record as a starter while completing better than 64 percent of his passes for 3,977 yards and 32 touchdowns.

But he has also had his share of miscues, throwing 22 interceptions over the course of those two seasons. Experience and better execution should help with curbing such gaffes, he said.

"I think you get a little bit of both: There's things you learn from and move past, and there's things that you look back on and think, why would I ever do that?" Rees said. "And those are just the mistakes you've got to erase. When a play turns bad you can't make it worse, and you've got to make the smart play. If that's throwing it away or just scrambling for a yard to get out of bounds -- just making the smart play, not trying to force something that's not there."

Rees knows credentials alone will not help him fend off Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, and said the deficiencies from last season have allowed him to enter the four-man race with the right mindset.

"'You gotta beat me out' -- that's his mentality and that should be his mentality," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin said of Rees. "And Hendrix should have a different mentality. Hendrix's mentality is, 'I'm gonna beat…' you know?

"I think [Tommy's] mentality is: 'Was I a Heisman Trophy winner? Have I locked the vault shut and I'm the guy? Maybe not. But I know I'm ahead of these guys and I'm gonna stay ahead of these guys. And there's things I need to work on to improve.' And he's not worried about the competition. The beautiful thing is him and Dayne were great friends, and still are great friends. And the beauty of the kids you recruit at Notre Dame, Andrew and him are good friends, and Everett and Andrew are good friends, and Gunner's becoming. So it's weird because they are all competitive kids, but it's not, 'Well, I'm gonna steal his playbook so I can win the job.' It's just a different animal. That's the great thing about coaching here. It doesn't get any funner than coaching at Notre Dame."