USC’s Graham Harrell sizes up quarterbacks during spring practice

New USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell watches during spring practice.
(John McGillen / Associated Press)

Graham Harrell has watched USC’s four quarterbacks for 13 practices, evaluating every decision, every throw, every interaction. Given how quickly the Trojans move through practice these days with Harrell pushing the pace, there is no shortage of data.

But when asked whether he hopes to identify a clear leader in the quarterback competition before spring ball ends Saturday, Harrell’s initial reaction was to utter a good-natured chuckle.

“Probably not,” said Harrell, USC’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “I think it’s hard too say that someone’s won the job or anything through 15 practices. It would be different if I’d been here for two years and they’ve had two years worth of work and two years worth of things to evaluate.”


Harrell is essentially looking for someone who is probably a lot like himself, given the success he had playing the position in a more primitive version of this “Air Raid” offensive scheme under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. It’s not that Harrell needs a personality double. His quarterback doesn’t have to love WWE as much as he does. But to hand the keys to his offense over, Harrell will have had to develop a genuine trust, and that can happen only with time.

Luckily for Harrell, he has plenty of it with a long offseason ahead. While he can’t coach JT Daniels, Matt Fink, Jack Sears and Kedon Slovis between the end of spring practice and the start of summer camp in August, Harrell made it clear he will still be watching them closely.

“Summer will be huge for them,” Harrell said. “That will be a great opportunity to develop as leaders, kind of step up and be leaders not on the football field but off the field, in the weight room, in the locker room … half the part of being a quarterback is just being a leader.

“So I tell them your No. 1 job is to make the guys around you better. They’ve got to see you work harder than everybody else. When we do that, when you step on the field, the guys play better because they respect the way you’ve worked.”

After spring practice is complete, coach Clay Helton and Harrell said they will discuss with each quarterback where they would stand in the pecking order if the season were to start now.

Tuesday, Harrell gave his take on his impressions of each quarterback during the last six weeks.

Of Daniels, who started 11 games last season as a freshman, Harrell said:

“JT has done a good job. He’s been pretty consistent throughout the spring. JT anticipates well, throws the ball well. He understands things. He’s very smart. JT gets in trouble when he overthinks. Because he’s so smart, he over-analyzes things and isn’t as fast making decisions. So, just seeing him pull the trigger [more]. We don’t have to break down where all 11 guys on the field are. If there’s an open piece of grass, throw it.”

Of Fink, last year’s backup who will be a redshirt junior, Harrell said:

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“When he’s hot, he can be really special. One thing we talk about with Fink is being consistent. Fink is really good when he’s on and struggles when he’s off. He’s the most emotional of them, so he gets extremely excited and starts talking noise, which I’m fine with. But he can turn negative at times and start getting into trouble. We sat down and talked with him, told him to stay positive, because when he’s positive he’s pretty dang good.”

Of Sears, who had some impressive moments in his one start last season against Arizona State, Harrell said:

“Jack is probably the most athletic. When he gets outside the pocket, he’s probably the best with the ball in his hand. Because he’s a better athlete, sometimes I think he’s quicker to get out of the pocket, though, so it’s a double-edged sword with that.”

Of Slovis, the early enrollee who will be attending his senior prom this spring, Harrell said:

“Kedon is special with his arm. He’s a talented guy. He’s just gotten better and better every day. He does things right. One thing I think that helps him is since he’s been in college the only offense he’s ever had to play in is this offense. He doesn’t have other things kind of clouding his mind, been taught other things.”

Twitter: @BradyMcCollough