Though it was obvious to most observers since the start of training camp, USC’s quarterback competition officially became a two-man race when Coach Lane Kiffin announced Sunday that freshman Max Browne was behind Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.
“It’s going from three to two,” Kiffin said.
The 6-foot-5 Browne, who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice, gained strength during the summer and has demonstrated uncommon maturity and poise since arriving on campus.
But Wittek and Kessler, both third-year sophomores, took the vast majority of first-team reps through nine days of camp. Their competition will become more focused as the Aug. 29 opener at Hawaii looms.
Matt Barkley started for the Trojans as a true freshman in 2009. Barkley, however, had the advantage of an enamored coach — Pete Carroll — and a training-camp injury suffered by Aaron Corp that opened the door for Carroll to install Barkley as the starter.
Kiffin praised Browne — “He’s probably as advanced as any guy that we’ve had this quick,” Kiffin said — but added that Wittek and Kessler are currently more adept at handling college game speed.
Kiffin said he spoke at length with Browne and emphasized that the decision did not guarantee Browne would redshirt.
“He’s got to be ready to play and prepare like that,” Kiffin said, adding that Browne handled the news like a professional. “Regardless of what happens this season, whoever plays and however well they play, we’ll go back to spring and reopen it again and he’ll have a year under his belt.”
Lee remains out
As star receiver Marqise Lee remained sidelined because of a bone bruise, freshman Darreus Rogers stepped up and dominated practice as Lee and former star Robert Woods did in recent years.
Rogers, listed at 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds, utilized his strength and athleticism to make several outstanding plays.
Meantime, Kiffin reiterated that Lee had much to work on, and that the plan was not to hold the junior out for a specified period.
“There’s some inconsistencies in his game, and he knows that,” Kiffin said, adding, “He’s got to get back out here. We cannot make that mistake — and I think we’ve made that over the years — just expecting guys [who] performed well to come out and do it.
“We’re not going to let that happen.”
Kiffin noted that Lee fumbled four times last season and must improve ball security.
“I know the guy’s won the Biletnikoff Award and I know he’s a great player,” Kiffin said, “but he’s still young.”
Junior tight end Xavier Grimble utilized his size and speed for big plays. Grimble, listed at 6-5 and 250 pounds, broke free for a touchdown and several long gains.
“It’s time to focus on some of the small details and just keep developing and perfecting my game,” he said.
Aundrey Walker, who started last season at left tackle, worked at right guard. Redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler continued to take first-team reps at left tackle. ... Sophomore fullback Jahleel Pinner continues to show improvement as a receiver out of the backfield. ... The Trojans have their second double-day practice session Monday.