Tommy Rees Caught on Tape, Part II

tommy rees
With Brian Kelly suspending Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese for the season opener against Navy, Notre Dame will have a first-time starter under center in Dublin. Although Kelly indicated that Rees will have an opportunity to “climb the depth chart,” he will have to show the coaching staff that he can make better decisions on and off the field.

In Part I of this series, we looked at Rees’ “perceived” strengths—the ability to read defenses and make proper checks at the line of scrimmage.  Now we’ll take a look at his decision making during the play.

Post-snap reads

According to Chris Brown of Smart Football, coaches teach quarterbacks two basic types of post-snap reads: progression reads and coverage reads. A progression read is essentially a predetermined series of choices of where to throw the ball. The quarterback looks for his primary receiver, then his secondary receiver, and so on until he finds someone open. A coverage read, on the other hand, focuses on reading specific defenders and determining which receiver to throw to based on those defenders’ movements. Each type of read has certain advantages and disadvantages and some plays actually combine progression and coverage reads.

Tommy Rees and the post-snap read

While it’s difficult to know exactly which type of read Rees was supposed to make in the following plays, we can at least look at the basic pass concepts within these plays to determine whether he made the right choice.

The first play comes from the Champs Sports Bowl.

On 3rd and 2, the Irish line up in a tight formation and run a curl/flat combo with Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert. The the curl/flat combo is designed to horizontally stretch the flat defender. If the flat defender stays with Floyd, Eifer should be open; if the defender stretches to cover Eifert, Floyd should be open.

Rees recognizes that Floyd’s route “picks” the defender, leaving Eifert open in the flat. The corner is playing too deep to make a play on the ball, and the result is an easy read and throw for Rees.  The Irish pick up the first down and keep the drive alive with one of Brian Kelly’s favorite short-yardage formations and plays.

The next play comes from the 2010 Army game.

The Irish line up in an empty set with Eifert and Floyd running a smash concept to the boundary. The single-high safety is a good indicator that the the Cadets are in cover 1 or cover 3. If the defense is playing cover 1, Eifert’s corner route should be effective against the man coverage. If the defense is playing cover 3, the cornerback’s drop should leave Floyd open on the hitch route before the underneath defender can rotate to the flat.

Assuming Kelly teaches his quarterbacks to read routes from deep to shallow, Rees should immediately recognize that the underneath defender and the safety have inside leverage on Eifert. All he has to do is put the ball between the numbers and the sideline.

Rees makes the proper read and delivers a nice ball before the safety can close the gap.

As the previous plays illustrate, Rees does a nice job of making quick decisions. Like most young quarterbacks, however, he often stares down his intended receiver. Below is an example of Greg Mattison’s defense exploiting Rees’ tendency to lock in on Michael Floyd.

Here, the Irish line up in a another 3×2 empty formation with Eifert and Floyd to the bottom of the screen. Eifert is running a seam route and Floyd a deep comeback. With all 11 defenders within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, Floyd should be facing single coverage.

Rees rolls to the right as a Michigan defender blitzes from the left.  At this point, he likely can only see Eifert and Floyd in his field of vision. With the corner retreating to cover Floyd deep, Floyd’s comeback looks like it will be open.

But as the play develops, both Michigan defenders near Eifert rotate toward Floyd. Meanwhile, Rees locks onto Floyd and misses the opportunity to hit Eifert deep down the middle.

Eifert is open by five yards in any direction. Rees may have gotten away with the throw to Floyd if he had a stronger arm, but his incorrect read results in another Irish turnover and missed opportunity.

The Notre Dame coaching staff stressed all spring the importance of protecting the football. This final play illustrates why understanding the down and distance can help a quarterback avoid needless turnovers. 

With Notre Dame facing a 1st and 20 from Florida State’s 28 yard line, the Irish line up in a 2X2 spread formation. The Seminole corners line up nearly 10 yards off the receivers.

As the secondary drops into a cover 4 shell, it appears that Rees is reading the deep routes initially. Based on the dropping secondary, he should quickly recognize that Goodman will be covered and begin looking underneath.

Rather than looking to Robby Toma on the drag or Cierre Wood out of the backfield, Rees continues staring down Goodman.

Rees throws an interception into double coverage. Even if his check-downs were not viable and he had to take a sack, he should not have forced this play. The Irish had three downs left to convert a first down, and the Seminoles made it clear they would not give up anything deep. This throw ended the Irish comeback bid and may very well be Rees’ last meaningful play as Notre Dame’s quarterback.


Rees’ physical limitations amplify the importance of his ability to read the defense and make good decisions. On one hand, his lack of arm strength allows defenses to put a safety in the box to clog the short and intermediate passing lanes and provide extra run support. On the other hand, his lack of mobility allows defenses to drop 8 into coverage without any real threat of a run. Although he has shown an ability to make quick decisions, he has yet to show that he can make the right decisions consistently. Now he may not get the chance.