USC Trojans begin the competition to replace Sam Darnold

USC quarterbacks Matt Fink (19) and Jack Sears (13) are competing at spring practice.
USC quarterbacks Matt Fink (19) and Jack Sears (13) are competing at spring practice.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When USC players jogged onto the practice field Tuesday for the start of spring workouts, there was a noticeable void left by the absence of quarterback Sam Darnold.

After leading the Trojans to a victory in the Rose Bowl, followed by a Pac-12 Conference title, Darnold departed with eligibility remaining for the NFL draft.

On Tuesday, the competition began to replace him.

Redshirt sophomore Matt Fink took repetitions with the starters throughout the two-hour practice and redshirt freshman Jack Sears practiced with the backups.

I have never gotten those reps before,” Fink said after practice. “It was pretty exciting.”

Said Sears: “We’re getting our reps in and competing.”

Coach Clay Helton said the quarterbacks would receive equal repetitions throughout the spring and that he would focus on development rather than evaluation.


USC quarterback Jack Sears: “We’re getting our reps in and competing.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times )

“I truly want to get each quarterback that is on this field progressed to be closer to be able to compete at the level that we need to,” Helton said. “Then when we get into fall camp… we really got to do some evaluation on all fronts.”

Fink is the only quarterback on the roster with college experience. Last season he appeared in three games and completed six of nine passes for 43 yards.

“It may give me a slight advantage,” Fink said.

But Helton is in no rush to name a starter and said he would not make a decision until the fall, when the competition will expand to include freshman J.T. Daniels from Santa Ana Mater Dei High.

Daniels led Mater Dei to a 15-0 record last season and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year. Daniels is graduating a year early to enroll at USC.

Spring tailback shortage

USC was short-handed in the backfield Tuesday.

Stephen Carr, who is expected to start following the departure of Ronald Jones II, is sidelined for the spring as he recovers from offseason back surgery.

Helton said he remained confident Carr would be available in the fall.

USC linebacker Porter Gustin (45) and defensive lineman Christian Rector (89) run to the workout station during USC spring practice at Howard Jones Field.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times )

“We won’t bring him back until he’s 100%,” Helton said. “But he’s already up and walking around.”

Vavae Malepeai, a redshirt sophomore who rushed for 261 yards in 49 carries last season, was limited Tuesday because of hamstring soreness, leaving senior Aca’Cedric Ware for most of the carries.

Dominic Davis, who moved to defense last season, also will practice at tailback this spring, Helton said.

Lewis appears in court

Wide receiver Joseph Lewis IV pleaded not guilty Tuesday to five misdemeanor charges stemming from two alleged domestic violence incidents.

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office charged Lewis, 18, with one count of domestic battery with an injury from an alleged incident on Feb. 5 and also charged him with two counts of domestic battery with injury from an alleged Feb. 11 incident.

Lewis also was charged with false imprisonment and domestic battery without an injury. He’s scheduled for a pretrial hearing on March 27.

Helton said Tuesday that Lewis remained “suspended from all team activities,” and he is not listed on the spring roster.

Last season Lewis played in 11 games, mostly on special teams.


Cornerback Jack Jones will focus on academics this spring and will be suspended for the first game of the season because of a violation of team rules, Helton said. … Offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn and Frank Martin did not practice because of knee soreness. Helton said they would be evaluated after spring vacation. … Safety Marvell Tell III did not practice because of a groin injury but is expected to return after spring vacation. … Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe will be sidelined all spring because of a muscle strain. … Receiver Jalen Greene will seek a graduate transfer and safety Jamel Cook will transfer. … Offensive linemen Cole Smith and Nathan Smith have taken medical retirements due to lower-body injuries.

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