In a somewhat surprising move, head coach Brian Kelly announced late yesterday that quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese would be suspended for the season opener against Navy in Ireland. Included in the suspension was the players inability to travel with their teammates to Dublin.
Yes, I was a little shocked by this somewhat harsh punishment, but everyone involved in this process was in a no-win situation. I do feel for the players that will miss a trip of a lifetime, and perhaps more playing time down the road, but perhaps it shouldn't be that surprising that Kelly took the road leading to harsh punishment in a no-win situation.
He sent a strong message and now the suspended players, and the program, have to deal with it.
Now, let's take a look at how this affects the depth chart and the upcoming quarterback competition that starts in a few days time.
The Team Psyche
First, you have to worry about how the rest of the team reacts to such a decision like this. There have already been some unsubstantiated rumors that a handful of players are not happy about it. Even more, you don't want to create a situation where one of the other quarterbacks takes the job through default without really earning it as Rees takes a back seat for fall camp and possibly into the season.
If you wanted a new starting quarterback, and it's pretty obvious many people do, it would have been better if Golson or Hendrix took the job while Rees was able to go down swinging.
You would hope the team rallies around the new starter, and I am sure this will happen much easier than we're led to believe right now, but it is still something to keep an eye on.
The Fall Camp Battle
While it's not the best situation from a competitive standpoint, Rees' absence from the first game and ultimate scaled back practice reps might be the best thing for Golson and Hendrix---and maybe for the team as a whole.
For the next month we go from a rather messy and confusing 3-way QB battle, to a simpler one revolving around players with very similar skill-sets.
This means the quarterbacks are going to be able to run more, which also means the offense is going to become more comfortable with said running, as well as sharpening up on the option reads and other such plays.
Without Rees involved as the potential starter, this ability to shape an offense around better athletes for a full month is a huge advantage not just for Hendrix and Golson, but the entire team.
The less experienced players will also benefit from receiving many more reps while Rees sits out as well.
I still think Golson is going to grab the reigns, but ironically as fishoutofwater pointed out a couple days ago, we may have been sleeping on Hendrix this whole offseason too.
I just don't think the staff fully trusts Hendrix when he's still such a raw passer, and despite not having thrown a pass in a real game yet, I believe Golson has a big advantage with his natural throwing skills.
However, I think we have to prepare ourselves for Hendrix to start, and I don't think it would necessarily be bad thing especially if it means the team is going to be running the ball a lot. At least for the opener in Ireland (and perhaps against Purdue) starting Hendrix gives you the ability to run the ball a lot from the QB position, and there'd probably be plenty of opportunities to get Golson's feet wet at the same time.
So I guess it shouldn't shock any of us if they both play, but I've felt this is going to be Golson's time for a while now. Rees' suspension just reinforces that feeling.
Golson will figure out the pre-snap stuff and get everyone set up correctly. That issue was largely overblown from the hectic and confusing substitutions from the spring game. Golson's main issue was always becoming more of a leader off the field and I believe he'll make big strides during the upcoming fall camp.
The Future (post-Navy)
Don't count Tommy Rees out just yet.
It's not inconceivable that either Hendrix or Golson struggle in Dublin and Rees steps right back into the role as starter in quick fashion.
The main issue here will boil down to just how far Rees will get behind the others in terms of reps and comfort while he's serving his suspension. Kelly made the statement that Rees will have the opportunity to "climb the depth chart" and that signals a much tougher road to get back on the field, especially for a quarterback.
How difficult that climb is, how far back Rees falls in practice reps, and how well the other quarterbacks play against Navy are the big issues moving forward. I tend to think this will settle Rees into a permanent backup role, but my gut says he's still going to see the field again in his career and be a factor in the quarterback discussion immediately following the Navy game.
Nonetheless, the door of opportunity has opened for Everett Golson and he should seize it. He'll no doubt have his own struggles against the better teams on the 2012 schedule, but I foresee him playing very competently against Navy and Purdue, and thus solidifying a more permanent role as the starter.
Whether Golson holds on to it for the remaining 10 games, let alone the next 4 years, remains to be seen. However, I think the team will head to Dublin, Ireland with No. 5 as its new starter.