NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Quarterback, a position unlike any other, especially at Notre Dame. There is no position on the football field that draws both awe and ire in the way the quarterback does. For the second year in a row, Notre Dame enters fall training camp with a quarterback derby.
First year head coach Marcus Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees are tasked with deciding who will be the starting signal-caller for the Fighting Irish when Notre Dame opens the season in less than a month at Ohio State.
Will 2021 be a “package” quarterback Tyler Buechner or will be Drew Pinewho was the runner-up in last year’s Derby with a Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan?
The two got most of the reps on a muggy August morning Friday as Freeman’s Irish held their first practice of fall training camp.
“Really, it’s a battle between two quarterbacks between Tyler and Drew,” Freeman said after practice. “I think they all had big strides in the spring. You know, Tyler missed the last two practices. One is the spring game and practice before that. But he had 13 really good workouts and I thought they both had extremely good springs.”
Both defenders saw action in 2021, albeit in different capacities.
Pine saw action two games in back-to-back weeks against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. He was 6 for 8 for 81 yards and a touchdown pass to help the Irish beat the Badgers after Coan left the game with an injury. He relieved an ineffective Coan the following week in a home loss to the Bearcats, going 9-of-22 for 143 yards and another touchdown.
Those were the only two games of his redshirt freshman season. His two-game total was 15-for-30 for 224 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 50% completion percentage. He rushed for -6 yards on six total carries.
Buchner saw action in 10 games. His raw speed and athletic ability shined when he was on the field, but he was mostly a change-of-pace hare compared to the tortoise legs of the veteran Coan.
The freshman rushed for 336 yards on 46 carries for a 7.3 average, but was just 21 for 35 for 298 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Two of the Ints came in his most extensive action of the season, against Virginia Tech. The other came a week earlier in a loss to Cincinnati.
Most of Friday’s 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 action came in red zone situations where Buechner wasn’t allowed to run.
“We all know he can run,” Freeman said of Buechner. “So it’s really good for him to progress in terms of being a passer, staying in the pocket (and) making good decisions, you know, because it’s always easy to take off and run.”
Both defensemen had their moments on Friday. Buechner looked much more comfortable in the pocket and was more accurate in early one-on-one passing situations without full field protection. He was a little less accurate during late 11-on-11 drills.
He made a good decision to throw the ball out of the back of the end zone when he was forced out of the pocket when the defense covered all of his receiving options.
Pyne’s best play was a race down the right when he fired a low volley Braden Lenzi managed to make a diving catch. His worst play was when he forced a ball into coverage Jordan Botello leaning in the arms of Xavier Watts in the end zone.
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The countdown begins to the first game at Ohio State, but Freeman doesn’t feel pressured by the 29 days between Friday’s first practice and that Sept. 3 game. His response when asked to name a starter was soft and simple.
“As soon as we can,” Freeman said. “I love the racing aspect of it. You know, I think competition really helps people grow, but as soon as we’re ready to name a starting quarterback, we will. We do not wait for a certain time (or) certain days. But we just have to make sure we’re ready to name a starting quarterback, and we will.”
In other words, expect longer reps for both Buechner and Pine and few opportunities for the team’s third rookie, Steve Angelli.
“What you’re going to see is Drew and Tyler battling it out, and they’re both going to get reps with those,” Freeman said. “When I or coach Reese and the offensive staff feel it’s to a point where there’s a quarterback that has clearly shown us he’s the starter, we’ll name him.”
In the meantime, we’ll all be watching and waiting.
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