The quarterback competition at USC this spring bares little resemblance to recent battles for the position.
It’s not the nail biter that took place two seasons ago between Max Browne and Sam Darnold, and it isn’t filled with the suspense of the Cody Kessler versus Max Wittek duel that carried into the 2013 season.
Clay Helton has emphasized development and learning this spring, and for the time being, that might be the best game plan as third-year sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears compete to replace Sam Darnold.
“We are nowhere near where we need to be right now,” Helton said after the Trojans’ 10th spring practice Tuesday, adding, “We’ve got a lot of good work that’s got to get done.”
When Browne and Darnold competed, Helton said he would declare the starter after one emerged, but wouldn’t provide a timeline.
This spring, Helton announced at the outset of workouts that the competition would continue into the fall.
That’s when freshman J.T. Daniels, who led Mater Dei High to a 15-0 season, will join the mix. And that’s when Fink and Sears will have more experience since sitting behind Darnold.
“We’re always evaluating,” Helton said. “But this is more educational.”
Fink has played in three games, completing six of nine passes. Sears has no college experience.
Both struggled during their second modified scrimmage last Saturday. Sears threw an interception and both quarterbacks had difficulty completing passes.
“Sometimes I try to be too perfect in my throws with the location,” Sears said. “Just got to let it rip and just trust in my guys.”
On Tuesday, Helton said there was improvement, even as their uneven play continued.
Sears threw a pass that was intercepted by safety C.J. Pollard to end practice and several of Fink’s passes fell incomplete.
“They’ve kind of hit a wall,” quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis said. “We’ve got to continue to force them to learn and force them to grow and when they come out to practice they’ve got to execute.”
Helton said the quarterbacks must throw the ball quicker and improve their deep-ball accuracy.
Fink said he has several areas of focus.
“Completing my read progressions and putting the ball where it needs to be,” Fink said. “Not throwing interceptions and catching the snap.”
The remaining five practices should provide relief, and more signs of progress.
Installation of the playbook is complete, and both quarterbacks have said they feel more comfortable in their surroundings.
“Hopefully we see corrections made,” Helton said. “And we see better results.”
Helton said last Saturday that a young receiver needed to emerge behind Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr.
On Tuesday, Velus Jones Jr. answered the call.
The third-year sophomore proved that he can create separation and provide a deep threat.
“He’s having a really, really good camp right now,” Helton said. “And is showing that speed.’
Jones, 6 feet and 201 pounds, credited his knowledge of the playbook for his ability to play fast.
“I know the system,” Jones said. “I can actually go out there and fly around.”
Last season, Jones was used as a backup behind Deontay Burnett, who made himself available for the NFL draft with eligibility remaining, and Steven Mitchell Jr., who ran out of eligibility.
Jones caught six passes for 46 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per catch.
He also handled kick returns, averaging 24.5 yards per return.
This season, he’d like to add punt returner to his resume.
“I’m trying to do it all,” Jones said.