At Pac-12 media day last month, Clay Helton had no qualms about whether USC would prolong its quarterback competition
“I do want 25 practices,” the USC coach proclaimed at the time.
But as the first scrimmage of USC’s fall camp approaches Saturday, that timeline seems to have shrunk. New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said Tuesday that coaches would “start to narrow it down” at quarterback next week, between the team’s two 11-on-11 scrimmages.
On Thursday, Helton further noted that USC’s competition would “go to the 17th,” the date of USC’s second scrimmage, which will be held at the Coliseum.
While JT Daniels remains the resounding favorite to start again, any serious attempt to unseat him would become clear Saturday, when, as Helton says, “the live bullets come.”
“It’s very important to see them in those live atmospheres,” Helton said. “Both this Saturday and next Saturday are critical for us.”
As has been the case during camp, reps will be evenly distributed among Daniels, Jack Sears, Matt Fink and Kevon Slovis, each of whom will split work between the first- and second-team offenses.
That equal arrangement probably won’t last long. It’s possible that USC could winnow the group in the week that follows, with the intention of giving additional reps to the one — or two — quarterbacks most likely to play.
“When you know you’ve got a guy, you’ve got to obviously devote reps into that guy,” Harrell said. “But again, we’ve got to figure out who is going to play best at the end of the month and not the beginning.”
So far, that’s been Daniels, who came to USC as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation. His 11 starts a year ago also give him a notable advantage in experience.
“I have a year of college under my belt,” Daniels said. “I’m starting to understand how things work more and more. I definitely feel a lot more prepared. I’ve taken better care of myself with everything because I know how it works.”
Slovis, meanwhile, is still figuring things out. The freshman early enrollee from Scottsdale, Ariz., flashed some serious arm talent over the course of the first week of fall camp, prompting Harrell to call him “a special talent.”
“His arm, when that ball comes out of his hand, it looks different. That’s what it’s supposed to look like. “
How he responds in his first scrimmage Saturday could determine whether he’s capable of sliding up the depth chart this season, past more proven commodities in Sears and Fink. All three probably will be in play for the No. 2 spot, presuming Daniels ascends to the top of the depth chart as expected.
“It’s constantly in the back of your mind that there are guys fighting for their job,” Slovis said. “I feel really fortunate because most true freshmen don’t have an opportunity to win a job or go compete for it.
“Getting as many reps as I have, it’s been really cool.”