The interception came late in Saturday’s scrimmage. Offensive Coordinator Tommy Ree couldn’t remember exactly who threw the pitch, which means he was not Tyler Bucher or Drew Pyne.
With 11 spring workouts in the book, Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator – as well as head coach Marcus Freeman – can feel good about at least one aspect of young callers progressing.
They have – for the most part – protected football.
“It’s been a point of attention all spring,” Rees said after Saturday’s scrimmage inside the Irish Athletics Complex, where he was moved out of Notre Dame Stadium when snow fell on South Bend.
“With the exception of training in the top 11, they were exceptional in that area. They did a very good job of taking ownership of that. They know how critical it is. I know how critical this is from my own mistakes (as a player). It’s something we emphasize every day.
On this exceptional day, North West graduate transfer security Brandon Joseph showed off his ball-peddling skills, which led to – according to Joseph – at least one pick in each of the five early padded practices, which includes the work of young (older) quarterbacks Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus III.
The revelation that the two best quarterbacks have protected football is great news after the last two Irish flaggers – Ian Book and Jack Coan – setting the standard in ball protection.
Between Book and Coan, they threw 1,452 passes over the previous four seasons (2018-21). Only 23 were intercepted, or one for every 63.1 pass attempts. Book was particularly stingy with 16 interceptions for 1,066 attempts (one every 66.6).
“They know the norm in the room,” Rees said of Buchner and Pyne. “Drew was here with Ian and Ian didn’t turn him over. They were both here with Jack and Jack didn’t return it.
“We’ve built that into who we want to be as a band. Both have a little more gunslinger in them, but they found the right opportunities to press that and make the decisions.
“As we are exposed to more opportunities and situations, I’m sure things will come up that we can learn from, but I’m happy with their progress towards owning this role.”
Saturday’s scrum featured 104 football snaps. Freeman said the offense took an early lead before the defense rallied around some type of point system designed to create offensive-versus-defensive competition. It was the first time this spring that the staff had set up a match-like situation with Rees on the balcony of the Irish Athletics Complex calling plays as he would on match day.
“Drew and Ty have both done a really good job of running the show,” Rees said. “It’s a little different when I’m not there with them. I’m in the loft calling it like I would on game day. I think they did a good job managing the offense and really taking ownership of it.
“They put in some good practices and found ways to score the ball. They had an opportunity with the second group where it’s really a challenge to make sure they’re the leaders, to get the guys lined up and assigned. It was by design.
It was a good test for the young signallers against the defense of coordinator Al Golden. Golden, who spent the previous five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, arrived at Notre Dame with an array of cutting-edge NFL defensive looks.
Quarterbacks aren’t slacking off this spring when it comes to deciphering defenses, which makes news of their football protection all the more remarkable.
“Coach Golden does a great job mixing fronts and covers,” Rees said. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is to make good decisions and put your team in the right place.
“As we get into situations, you can grow. The sooner you can recognize things, the sooner you can make the right decision.
“We were exposed to a lot and I’m very proud of how our guys came in every day hungry to work and hungry to improve.”