USC quarterbacks are competing to back up Cody Kessler

Max Browne (4) is among the candidates to be the backup to starting quarterback Cody Kessler (6) next season.

Max Browne (4) is among the candidates to be the backup to starting quarterback Cody Kessler (6) next season.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

No intrigue will surround USC’s quarterback situation when the Trojans open the season in five months against Arkansas State.

Fifth-year senior Cody Kessler is a three-year starter, and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.

But as USC prepares for its final week of spring workouts, it’s not too early to look ahead to 2016, when the Trojans will begin the post-Kessler era against Alabama.


Third-year sophomore Max Browne, redshirt freshman Jalen Greene and freshman Ricky Town this spring began the competition to back up and ultimately succeed Kessler. Incoming freshman Sam Darnold will join the competition this fall.

Quarterbacks coach Clay Helton is clearly focused on preparing all of his charges for the upcoming season, but he acknowledged that the younger players are building resumes for when their opportunity comes.

“The guy that’s performing at the highest level is going to play,” he said this week. “Every one of those kids is going to get the opportunity to show what they have.”

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Browne has been enjoying his most productive practices since arriving at USC from Skyline High in Washington in January 2013.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said this week that Browne “is playing lights out.”

“If Cody went down and Max had to step into the game, I think Max would do great,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t know if I could say the same thing a year ago at this time.”

On Saturday at the Coliseum, Browne completed long passes to receivers Isaac Whitney, Steven Mitchell and JuJu Smith during the scrimmage portion of a full-pads practice.

“Coach Helton said one day things will start clicking,” Browne said afterward. “I feel like it’s coming on slowly but surely — I haven’t changed anything huge — but the throws are working out and it’s fun.”

Last season, Browne played one significant snap against Utah when Kessler was briefly sidelined, but he otherwise provided late-game relief and completed three of seven passes.

Browne’s arm appears stronger, his command of the offense improved.

Experience in the offense has enabled Browne to play without hesitation.

“Everything is quicker,” he said recently. “Everything is a little more fast and I’m getting comfortable. I’m not thinking twice…. That’s a huge advantage.”

Greene, a left-handed passer, has improved his accuracy since coming to USC in January 2014 from Gardena Serra High.

Greene, 6-2 and 200 pounds, said that his decision-making and understanding of the offense also are better after a year in Sarkisian’s system.

Greene is pushing Browne for the backup role with an eye on 2016.

“I’m just doing everything I can to make sure I’m in the conversation,” Greene said.

Town, a January enrollee from Ventura St. Bonaventure High, is listed at 6-3 and 205 pounds. He has struggled at times but also enjoyed stretches of success while becoming acclimated to the speed and schemes of the college game.

“Ricky is doing a really nice job for a young person in his first camp,” Helton said.

Mitchell noted the growth of all three quarterbacks.

Browne is talking more to receivers and reading the defense more effectively, Greene is going through his progressions quicker and Town is benefiting from having initiated pre-spring workouts with receivers, Mitchell said.

Darnold, a 6-4, 215-pound dual-threat from San Clemente High, will arrive this summer.

Kessler waited more than two years for his opportunity to succeed Matt Barkley as the starter. Former quarterbacks Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez also waited several years before they got their opportunity.

“It really does help,” Kessler said of waiting. “It’s important to get that experience, to gain those practices where you can make mistakes, and then know what to expect when you get in the game.”

Quick hits

Defensive lineman Claude Pelon suffered an apparent shoulder injury early in practice and sat out the rest of the workout.... The Trojans practice Tuesday at the Coliseum and Thursday on campus before concluding spring workouts with the spring game Saturday at the Coliseum.

Twitter: @latimesklein

Correspondent Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.