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March 23, 2010

Kelly optimistic about Crist

Brian Kelly delivered good news and better news on Tuesday.

After speaking at the KeyBank Gridiron Legends luncheon in South Bend, Notre Dame's new head coach revealed his injury report heading into spring practice would include just one name. The fact that name isn't Dayne Crist could be the biggest news of the Irish off-season.

While the quarterback's health had been trending toward a pre-spring recovery since his ACL surgery last November, Kelly put a finer point on his incumbent with off-season practices now three days away.

"We'd be really close to playing with him," Kelly said. "Obviously we're going to be smart. He'll play all of our 7-on-7 routines, he'll be in all of our one-on-one's.

"We'll put a big funnel around him, make sure no one gets near him. He's got to get out there and take snaps. He's got to learn the offense. He's got to earn the starting job. He's done a great job of putting himself in a position to do all that."

Crist tore his right ACL during an awkward tackle during last season's blowout of Washington State, also the last time Notre Dame won a football game. He underwent surgery soon after the injury and was off crutches by the end of last season. That's all good news for Kelly, whose quarterback depth chart is more like a shallow end.

"Dayne Crist has got more snaps than anybody else, that's all he has," Kelly said. "He has no wins."

Neither does anybody else, which opens up a quarterback competition, although it won't be the four-ring circus of three years ago. The job is Crist's to lose, with the back-up spot worth watching. Kelly said Tommy Rees was "drinking out of a fire hose right now" with the rest of the early enrollees, creating an opening for a familiar name.

"We've got to rely on (Nate) Montana to really compete with Crist," Kelly said. "He's got some experience. Now, he's bounced around a little bit. I think he understands where he needs to be. But he's caught our eye a little bit. He's going to have to come through for us."

Montana returned to Notre Dame this spring after a semester at Pasadena City College, where he took limited snaps. The Irish legacy played in just five games there, completing 31-of-88 passes for 324 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions.

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