USC quarterbacks Matt Fink and Jack Sears are playing with a chip on their shoulder in their final week of spring practices.
Fink and Sears know they've struggled at times as they compete to replace Sam Darnold and both want to prove that they are capable of developing into a starting quarterback.
"We want to come out and show that we are learning, that we are improving," Sears said after practice Tuesday. "And that we can run this offense."
The young quarterbacks proved as much Saturday during a scrimmage that provided a morale boost and earned them praise from coach Clay Helton.
"We had some shaky practices," Fink said. "But it was a confidence builder not only for us, but for the whole offense, I think, to finally put on tape what we could do."
Fink, a third-year sophomore who has appeared in three games, completed several short and intermediate passes, with no turnovers.
Sears, a redshirt freshman, threw a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in his first series before bouncing back with a deep pass to Velus Jones Jr. for a touchdown.
The quarterbacks credited the offensive line and run game for their improved play.
"It's easy when the whole team is doing well," Fink said. "So I think that's what I need to get better at, is when everything is not going perfect, I still need to play my game and do my job."
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin said Sears and Fink were efficient.
"We focused on tempo and execution and really just tried to keep it simple for the most part," Martin said. "They showed some growth."
The Trojans will practice twice more this spring, including another scrimmage in full pads Saturday.
Helton would like to see the quarterbacks build on their performance as the offense solidifies its identity.
"I thought that was kind of our blueprint," Helton said. "What we are going to need to be early in the season, with the ability to run the ball and then play-action off of it. Make it a Simple Simon game for the quarterbacks and watch them function."
Helton declared at the outset of spring that the quarterback competition would stretch into the fall, when J.T. Daniels, a highly rated recruit who led Mater Dei High to a 15-0 season, will join the mix.
Daniels has watched several practices this spring from the sideline.
For Fink and Sears, it will be important to finish strong before another quarterback joins the competition.
Fink said he must improve his timing with receivers and must throw the ball quicker to avoid pressure.
Sears said he needed to better understand the offense and "just sharpen some tools."
Freshmen get experience
Five freshmen graduated high school early to enroll in spring courses at USC and participate in spring practices.
At least three have taken repetitions with the starters, including center Justin Dedich, linebacker Kana'i Mauga and safety Talanoa Hufanga.
"I loved every moment of it," Dedich said Tuesday, when freshmen were made available to reporters for the first time. "It was cool to get that experience."
Dedich has mostly played behind redshirt freshman Brett Neilon, who has taken the majority of the starting reps this spring with Toa Lobendahn limited because of knee issues.
Hufanga, who has played mostly with the backups, has intercepted two passes.
"It's definitely a transition from high school," Hufanga said. "Getting out here early definitely benefited me."