The last two No. 1 quarterbacks at USC stood side by side, observing from behind the fray as the first deep balls of spring soared from the right arms of Matt Fink, the returning redshirt senior, and Brad Aoki, a 5-foot-8 converted quarterback wearing a yellow No. 36 jersey.
As spring practice opened at USC, with no assurance it would continue on through next month due to the rapid spread of coronavirus, Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels, the two presumably vying for the starting job, both had injury questions of their own, on a roster short on other options.
For Slovis, any doubts were quelled just a few minutes later, as he rejoined USC’s first team offense and laced several throws that reminded why he was named Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year. After injuring his elbow in the Holiday Bowl, there was some concern over how healthy he would be for the start of spring.
“I feel better honestly,” Slovis said on Wednesday. “If anything, I’ve been working a lot in the offseason and developing hip flexibility and mobility. It takes a lot of pressure off my arm. My arm was getting pretty tired.”
Just to be safe, USC will continue to monitor Slovis’ reps throughout camp. But the rising sophomore quarterback said he finally felt at full strength early last week.
The status of Daniels, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament after just two quarters as a starter last season, is less certain. USC coach Clay Helton said Daniels is on pace to be fully cleared by fall camp, but “could get some routes on air” by the end of spring ball.
“We look forward to getting him back,” Helton said. “We look forward to that competition.”
How much of a competition it will turn out to be remains to be seen. Slovis piloted one of the nation’s top passing attacks as an unheralded freshman last season, shattering record after record along the way.
But at USC, quarterback competitions, no matter how real they are, have become a tradition Helton appears intent on continuing.
Coronavirus and spring practice
As USC closed its previously public spring football practice in response to the threat of coronavirus, Helton apologized to fans, while praising the university for being proactive.
But as other schools have taken more serious measures, barring recruiting visits and even canceling their respective spring games, Helton said USC will continue with the status quo until March 29, when the university announced it would re-evaluate its response.
It took less than an hour after Helton spoke for the university to extend that date to April 14. Until then, any students who leave campus for spring break next week — presumably including football players — will not be allowed to return until that date.
USC’s spring game was scheduled just a few days before then, making cancellation of the Coliseum exhibition a possibility.
Helton said he would look to the university’s leadership for an answer on whether to hold the game.
“The one thing we’ll always do is protect our students and our student athletes,” Helton said. “If the game is cancelled, it’s cancelled. But right now we’re status quo.”
After serious injuries swept through its depth chart last fall, USC players accounted for 30 surgeries since the end of the season. Several won’t play this spring, including key contributors Amon-ra St. Brown (sports hernia), running back Markese Stepp (ankle), cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart (multiple torn knee ligaments), and Talanoa Hufanga (shoulder). St. Brown and Hufanga are both expected to recover soon after spring, while Taylor-Stuart and Stepp are both expected back for fall camp. … Wideout Drake London and running back Kenan Christon are both healthy, but will be away from the team during spring, while playing with the basketball team (London) and the track and field team (Christon), respectively.