Max Browne steps in for Cody Kessler at quarterback for USC

Max Browne

USC quarterback Max Browne participates in drills at Howard Jones Field on Aug. 8.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Max Browne is not expected to start at quarterback for USC until the 2016 opener against Alabama.

But the third-year sophomore got to prepare like a starter Thursday.

With senior Cody Kessler absent while attending a graduate school orientation, Browne stepped in and performed like he was ready to play in the Sept. 5 opener against Arkansas State or at any time this season.

“I never told the team,” Coach Steve Sarkisian said, “we just did it.”

Browne, 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, looked confident and in command of the offense. He continued to show improved arm strength and touch on deep routes.

Browne was unavailable to comment on his performance because offensive players were not available to the media Thursday.

Sarkisian said Browne played “great” and that the day off for Kessler gave the starter’s arm needed rest.

Senior cornerback Kevon Seymour said he looked up and was initially surprised to see Browne taking the first-team reps.

“Max is not afraid to throw the deep ball,” Seymour said, laughing. “I’m not saying that Cody is. I’m saying Max has got a nice deep ball. He’s going to lay it out there.”

Browne’s performance should give the Trojans confidence if Kessler is injured.

“We don’t know if it’s Week 1, Week 7, Week 13, that his number might be called, that he’s going to have to step in. " Sarkisian said. “He can lean on this practice knowing he can operate this offense at a high level.”

Jackson does it all

Adoree’ Jackson spent another spectacular day on offense and also showed a new special teams talent, kicking a short field goal.

“The kickers weren’t making it,” Sarkisian said, “so I put the guy in that I thought could make it.”

Jackson, a starting cornerback, played defense for 11 practices and moved to offense Wednesday.

“I look forward to facing Adoree’ because I know I’m not going to get anything like that when the season comes,” Seymour said. “He’s just so explosive, you never know what’s going to happen when he touches the ball.”

Sarkisian noted that, with Jackson on offense the last two days, the defense did not perform as well.

“We’re obviously better when he’s out there on both sides of the ball,” Sarkisian said."It’s just going to be a real challenge for us as a staff to manage him properly so we can get the best out of him, and he can get the best out of himself.”

Wheeler sidelined

Offensive tackle Chad Wheeler, who Sarkisian has said was close to being cleared for live contact drills after knee surgery nine months ago, suffered a setback Thursday because of an unrelated injury. The junior was unable to finish practice after getting hit in the side of the head by a medicine ball.

Quick hits

Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu took first-team reps because Su’a Cravens was held out because of a back spasm. Nwosu was not enrolled at USC for the spring semester and did not participate in team activities. He had been sent home from the Holiday Bowl for what a school official described in January as an unspecified violation of team rules. He re-enrolled for summer classes and participated in team activities. “I’m not really focused on that anymore,” said Nwosu, who declined further comment about the situation. Regarding Nwosu’s situation before he rejoined the Trojans, Sarkisian said it was an unspecified “student-conduct issue” and declined to elaborate. ... Tailback Justin Davis did not practice because of bruised ribs, Sarkisian said…. Defensive lineman Claude Pelon had arthroscopic knee surgery and could be sidelined for several weeks.... Senior linebacker Anthony Sarao and tight end Taylor McNamara also missed practice to attend the graduate school orientation…. The Trojans practice Friday at 2:30 p.m.

Twitter: @latimesklein