Capitals

Rees, Kiel have to wait their turns at Notre Dame

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Rees, Kiel have to wait their turns at Notre Dame

MIAMI (AP) Tommy Rees started 16 games at quarterback in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, before being beaten out for the job this season and turning into one of the best relief pitchers in the country.

Gunner Kiel, after some flip-flopping, arrived at Notre Dame early for his freshman season with much fanfare. He was given a shot to win the starting quarterback job, but ended up being just a spectator as the Fighting Irish put together their best season in more than two decades.

If all goes well for the top-ranked Fighting Irish, Rees and Kiel will be watching Everett Golson lead Notre Dame past No. 2 Alabama in the BCS championship Monday night.

Rees and Kiel were probably the two most famous quarterbacks on the Notre Dame roster heading into the season, but now they are both sitting Golson, a redshirt freshman who looks as if he could be keeping the job for a while.

Golson won the starting job after what started as a four-way competition in spring practice with Rees and Kiel that also included Andrew Hendrix.

It hasn't been an easy year for Rees.

He and linebacker Carlo Calabrese were both suspended for the first game of the season after their May 3 arrests outside an off-campus party. Rees pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegal alcohol consumption and resisting law enforcement. He was sentenced to 50 hours of community service and 11 months of probation. A monthlong jail term was suspended.

When he returned, it seemed as if coach Brian Kelly might have a quarterback controversy on their hands. In the second game of the season against Purdue, Rees was called on late and guided the Irish to a game-winning field goal.

Rees went back to the bench the next week against Michigan State. Then came off again to play fairly well in relief against Michigan.

He started against Miami - Golson was in hot water with Kelly - but Golson played most of that game. Rees came off the bench again against Stanford and threw the game-winning TD pass, started against BYU when Golson was hurt, and then relieved again for a chunk of the Pittsburgh game. On the season, Rees has thrown for 436 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions.

``It's been a long year, there's been a lot of changes made,'' Rees said. ``I support Ev, supported the coaches' decision. There's been moments where it's been tough. But I've definitely learned my role and taken my role and made the most of my opportunities.''

Winning has helped him accept it, though being a mentor to a younger player is not exactly what a junior quarterback who is seventh in school history with 34 touchdown passes signs up for.

``I feel like I've been a good help to Ev in different aspects of his game,'' Rees said. ``Watching him grow. On and off the field it's been pretty rewarding for me because I got to help him every day.''

Kiel, from Columbus, Ind., was one of the most heralded quarterback recruits in the country last year. He had a hard time deciding where he wanted to go to school - to say the least.

First he verbally committed to Indiana. Then he de-committed. Then he verbally committed to LSU. Then at the last moment, he decided to go to Notre Dame.

As far as recruiting news goes, Kiel's indecision was big news and his choosing Notre Dame was considered a huge score for Kelly.

``I think I put more pressure on myself because I overanalyzed a lot of things,'' Kiel said. ``If I could do it all over again I would probably go back and enjoy the recruiting process and enjoy my senior year and enjoy the people around me and just have a fun with it instead of making it seem like a job. And putting so much stress, so much on myself it buried me.

``I wanted to please everyone. I wanted to make everyone happy. I also couldn't make up my mind either. That's why I committed so many places and de-committed to so many places.''

Kiel said that while he wanted to play and wanted to compete for the job, he realized from the start that it was going to be a tough task to accomplish. Even though he hasn't played, he said with a big smile and nothing but sincerity in his voice that it's been a great season.

``Going to the national championship and being on a 12-0 team is definitely something special,'' he said. ``Having an opportunity to be around the guys and travel, just to be a part of the team has been great for me.''

But when a player of Kiel's caliber seemingly gets stuck behind another player, the question of whether he will look to transfer inevitably comes up. He said he hasn't even thought about it, but he also said he's ready to play.

If he were to transfer, he'd have to sit out a year, per NCAA rules, but he'd still have three years of eligibility left.

``Right now I'm enjoying what's going one,'' he said. ``I'm being patient. I'm just waiting for my moment. I'm just waiting for everything to play out.''

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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