Bears

Golson may be favorite, but Notre Dame QB battle not close to ending

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Golson may be favorite, but Notre Dame QB battle not close to ending

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's quarterback competition has created a second position battle on the fields of the LaBar Practice Complex. This one, though, has nothing to do with playing time or depth charts.

Brian Kelly's purple-faced outbursts on NBC last season gained national notoriety, so the thought of him having to play good cop with Notre Dame's quarterbacks seems a bit odd. But that's first-year offensive coordinator Chuck Martin's goal.

"We both want to be the bad cop. We're usually in a race to get there first so we could be the bad cop and force the other guy's hand to be the good cop," laughed Martin. "So I've out-flanked him in practice, I like to cheat up as the cadence goes to where I'm almost behind him, so if I want to unload I can really get on him and force Kelly to be the good cop."

While neither Kelly nor Martin would hint at who their starter will be Sept. 1 against Navy, the general consensus around campus is that Everett Golson will get the nod. Kelly said Thursday he'll move away from a 50-50 reps split between Golson and Andrew Hendrix early next week and speak with both quarterbacks about their position.

But that conversation won't represent a final decision.

"But there's still so much learning, so it wouldn't be as cut and dry as say, here's my No. 1," Kelly said. "The door will still be open for growth during that week, but we'll start to separate the reps a little bit."

The door is certainly still open for Hendrix -- or Golson, if the coaching staff goes in another direction -- to gain the starting role before the Navy game. Either way, though, Notre Dame will head to Dublin with a quarterback who has never started a collegiate game.

"It can all be decided and look perfect in practice, and when the lights go on -- we all know from being around this game that, when the lights go on, kids react differently," explained Martin. "Some kids play better than they ever play, and some kids play worse. Whoever gets the first chance is going to have to go out there and play and prove to everyone that they can be capable of doing the job. Not that we're looking for a quick hook, I'm not saying that, just it still will be an unknown when we send that kid out there for the first series."

Notre Dame's already used the quick hook under Kelly, with Dayne Christ finding himself on the bench of last year's season opener after a rough first half. If a change is made at quarterback, it may not be during the Navy game. It could come the week after.

"You're always preparing for all the eventualities -- if those two kids (Golson and Hendrix) don't look like they're handling the job description, and you got a guy who's won a bunch of games for us," Martin said, referring to Tommy Rees. "And that's depending on a lot of factors -- is it one guy, is it two guys, is it two guys battling it out, is one guy battling it out, did they both play well, did they both fall on their face. We're prepared to go any direction, I'm sure coach is prepared for every eventuality, but it's just going to play out."

Rees' presence has been described as positive in preseason camp, but with the incumbent starter suspended for the season opener, there exists a chance that Rees re-enters the conversation after Week 1.

"I know Tommys itching to get back, were all itching to get Tommy back as well, because when hes in there working, we see what hes doing, we get the reps mentally," Hendrix said. "When Tommy comes back, coach Kelly will obviously play it how he knows best, we trust him in that. But we are excited to have Tommy back."

But interceptions were a problem for Rees last season, and Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff are trying to eradicate those turnover woes from the offense. Golson, to his credit, has only thrown one interception in preseason practice, a note which Kelly lauded on Thursday.

"You build trust," Kelly said. "You don't just give it, you build trust ... and he's exhibited that trust in the way he's handled himself in camp."

Whether Golson can keep that trust through Week 1 remains to be seen, as well as if Hendrix has it or Rees can earn it back. Ideally, Kelly and Martin would like to stick with the same quarterback from Week 1 through bowl season. But if they can't do that, Notre Dame's quarterback competition could extend into the fall.

"At the end of the day, you still are going to battle until you get it right," Martin said. "Sometimes it takes longer, especially at that spot."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.