As USC begins spring football practice, Max Browne says quarterback job is his to lose

As USC begins spring football practice, Max Browne says quarterback job is his to lose
Quarterback Max Browne (4) huddles up with teammates on the first day of spring practice at USC's Howard Jones Field. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

There was something new about the USC football team's first spring practice on campus Tuesday, and it didn't have anything to do with the changes on the coaching staff.

For the first time in three years, there is competition to become the starter at quarterback.


Fourth-year junior Max Browne, Cody Kessler's backup last season, is the front-runner to win the job. But he has more challengers than he might have originally anticipated.

After a season playing receiver, third-year sophomore Jalen Greene returned to quarterback and will challenge Browne, along with redshirt freshman Sam Darnold and freshman Matt Fink, who enrolled in January.

"I believe everybody has the same shot," Greene said. "It's all production based."

Coach Clay Helton said he would announce a starter at the end of the spring's 15 practices if a player separated himself. "If the gap is close and there is some progress that can be made, then we'll take it into fall camp," Helton said.

Browne spent three seasons stuck behind Kessler and received limited playing time, but said he felt comfortable in the competition.

"I'm older, I've been here longer and have had more reps," Browne said. "I'm taking the mind-set that it's my job to lose, but at the end of the day it's the coach's decision."

Darnold looked impressive during fall camp last season but he said he felt a few nerves Tuesday.

"Obviously, Browne has been here three years now, coming on his fourth year, so he has that advantage, but coach really said it was an even race coming in," Darnold said.

Wheeler returns

Left tackle Chad Wheeler returned to practice after he did not make the trip to the Holiday Bowl last December because of his involvement in a situation with the police.

"I dealt with it, I regret what I did, I apologized to my coach, my teammates and I apologized to the fans," Wheeler said. "But I did have personal issues and I dealt with them and just looking forward to coming out next season strong.

"It took a lot to get back, but I'm ready to go."

Wheeler would not go into detail about the issue.

A three-year starter, Wheeler shared repetitions Tuesday with fifth-year senior Zach Banner and sophomore Chuma Edoga.


"I think he's one of the guys, he's always been a great athlete, he needs to be a master of his craft," Helton said.

Helton said he expects Wheeler to be available to play when USC opens against Alabama on Sept. 3.

Missing on defense

The defense is short of experienced players during spring ball.

Safety Chris Hawkins is sidelined after undergoing ankle surgery and safety Leon McQuay III has a class that will keep him from team practices, Helton said.

Cornerback Adoree' Jackson has been excused from spring sessions as he attempts to qualify for the Olympics in the long jump. "He's one of those special players that needs three weeks of camp to be ready for a season," Helton said.

The eligibility of Scott Felix, who started at linebacker last season, remains uncertain as he deals with personal issues, Helton said.

Defensive end Don Hill violated team rules and "until further notice" will not attend practice, Helton said.

Extra points

Tight end Taylor McNamara and linebacker Quinton Powell did not practice because of illnesses, Helton said. ... Linebacker Osa Masina was limited because of a hamstring injury. ... Offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn and Khaliel Rodgers were limited after undergoing knee surgery and shoulder surgery, respectively. ... Former Trojans players George Uko, Hayes Pullard and Su'a Cravens attended practice. ... The spring game is scheduled for April 16 at the Coliseum.