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Quarterback competition begins to take shape at USC's spring practice

Quarterback competition begins to take shape at USC's spring practice
USC quarterbacks Matt Fink, left, and Jack Sears take part in spring football practice at Howard Jones Field on March 6. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

USC resumed spring practice Tuesday after taking a week off for spring vacation.

The break allowed for redshirt freshman Jack Sears and third-year sophomore Matt Fink to study film and digest their first-week performances as they compete to replace quarterback Sam Darnold.

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“It gave me a great opportunity to kind of look through the playbook and go through those practices again,” Sears said after practice. “Just figure out those first-week mistakes and try not to make them again.”

Said Fink: “There’s a lot of things I need to work on and there’s a lot of things that I need to get better at.”

Coach Clay Helton was pleased with both quarterbacks’ accuracy in their first week of workouts, but noted that the team did not practice in full pads and that many of the drills were focused on individual skills.

This week, players will put on pads for the first time and the focus will shift to team situations, allowing for Helton to better evaluate each quarterback.

“To see you function and see your field generalship, those are the situations that I like seeing,” Helton said. “I’m going to get a lot more to be able to see them live and where they are at.”

Sears and Fink appeared more relaxed Tuesday as they continued to settle into their new reality — no longer waiting behind Darnold, but in constant competition.

Helton has already declared that the position battle would continue into the fall, when incoming freshman J.T. Daniels from Mater Dei High will join the mix.

Sears, who missed a practice before spring break to participate in teammate Andrew Vorhees’ wedding, took most of the repetitions with the starters Tuesday while Fink practiced with the backups, a rotation that Helton said would alternate throughout the spring.

Both quarterbacks have identified areas needing improvement.

“Just becoming a better passer,” Sears said. “Be more accurate.”

Fink, who developed a knack for scrambling in high school, said he needed to become more comfortable in the pocket.

“That’s always a challenge just for every QB,” Fink said. “But that’s just a building block for me to get to.”

Expanded audience

About a dozen NFL scouts and executives watched the two-hour practice ahead of the Trojans’ scheduled pro day workout on campus Wednesday, which will feature Darnold (a projected top-five pick), running back Ronald Jones II and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, among others.

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Among executives in attendance was Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, whose son, Jalen, is a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for the Trojans.

Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson, a USC assistant from 1997-2000, also watched a brief portion of the workout. The Browns own the No. 1 and No. 4 pick in the draft.

With rain showers in the forecast, Helton said pro day would go on, rain or shine, and that he encouraged underclassmen to attend the event.

“I know a lot of our kids will come out and it is great to have them up in the stands and be able to do that and be able to see that experience,” Helton said. “It keeps a goal out there for them to play past college.”

Etc.

Former USC offensive tackle Dr. Charles Arrobio, a 1965 Academic All-American, died last Sunday at the age of 73 after a prolonged illness. … Offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn practiced in limited drills for the first time this spring. Helton said Lobendahn is being held out of full-contact drills as a precautionary measure to protect his knees. … Former USC standout and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor attended practice.

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