Clay Helton was eager to see how USC’s young quarterbacks would perform in live-action drills.
On Friday, the Trojans coach caught a glimpse of third-year sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears playing in a modified scrimmage.
“Not surprised but kind of excited about how the quarterbacks performed today,” Helton said after practice. “I thought they did a nice job of distributing the ball.”
Both quarterbacks lack experience — Fink played in three games, completing six of nine passes, while Sears redshirted last season — and at the start of the scrimmage their youth showed.
An errant throw by Fink hit center Toa Lobendahn in the back of the helmet during a seven-on-seven period. In the ensuing scrimmage, Fink fumbled a snap from redshirt freshman center Brett Neilon and then threw a pass that was intercepted by cornerback Ajene Harris.
Sears also got off to a shaky start, fumbling a snap from Neilon and later botching a pitch to tailback Chris Edmondson.
Both quarterbacks improved after their initial miscues.
Sears completed a short throw to third-year receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, who turned the play into a long gain. Later, Imatorbhebhe caught a deep pass from walk-on quarterback Holden Thomas.
“They did a really good job and made some good decisions,” Helton said about the quarterbacks. “You even saw Jack pull the ball down when things weren’t there and scramble for two first downs.”
Helton also was impressed by Imatorbhebhe’s production.
“The light is starting to come on for him playbook-wise,” Helton said. “He’s getting lined up right, he looks confident.”
Watching the scrimmage from the sideline was Mater Dei High quarterback J.T. Daniels, who will enroll in the fall and will challenge Fink and Sears for the starting position.
Senior Aca’Cedric Ware is carrying a bulk of the handoffs after spending three seasons behind Justin Davis, who is now with the Rams, and Ronald Jones II, who is projected as a first- or second-round pick in the NFL draft in April.
Ware’s repetitions also have been increased with Stephen Carr sidelined for the spring as he recovers from back surgery and Vavae Maleapai slowed because of a hamstring injury.
Ware took consecutive handoffs throughout the scrimmage and consistently gained first downs.
“Where I was really happy was to have the ability to see Ced Ware,” Helton said, adding that Dominic Davis also stood out. “It was good to see the third-and-short running game into play and Ced and Dominic do a good job at it.
“Wow,” Helton said, when asked about safety Talanoa Hufanga.
Hufanga is one of five players who graduated high school early to enroll in the spring semester.
“He seems to get to the ball in a flash,” Helton said. “I’m glad he’s here now because he’s really going to get a great jump start on his freshman year.”
It will be a challenge, however, for Hufanga — who intercepted a pass Thursday — to earn playing time as a freshman.
He joins a group that includes senior Marvell Tell, junior Ykili Ross, third-year sophomore C.J. Pollard and sophomore Bubba Bolden.