USC football spring preview: Quarterback battle reopened

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football’s quarterback battle will reopen in Spring Camp 2019 as JT Daniels, Jack Sears and Matt Fink contend for Graham Harrell’s approval.

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If there is one area for major improvement for USC football in 2019, it’s quarterback play.

JT Daniels was impressive in winning the starting job as a true freshman, but the Trojan quarterback left plenty to be desired as he struggled with inexperience and a stagnant offense. Will he progress as hoped or be unseated?

The first of Reign of Troy’s 10-part Spring Camp preview looks at USC’s passers and where they stand in the coming quarterback battle:

Roster Rundown

Departing (0):N/A

Returning (3):Matt Fink (RS-Jr.)Jack Sears (RS-So.)*JT Daniels (So.)

Spring Enrollees (1):Kedon Slovis (Fr.)

Fall Enrollees (0):N/A

*Returning starter

The Trojans will go into the 2019 season with four scholarship quarterbacks, which amounts to better depth than they have had in recent years.

Daniels returns for his sophomore season with an eye on replicating Matt Barkley’s growth from Year 1 to Year 2 as a starting quarterback.

SEE MORE: USC needs JT Daniels to follow Matt Barkley’s path

Head coach Clay Helton already identified Spring Camp as an opportunity for Daniels to continue to learn, and it absolutely will be. He didn’t have the luxury of the spring last year. The benefit may be immense this year.

Of course, the benefit of experience may also serve to boost one of Daniels’ challengers for the starting job.

Jack Sears’ performance against ASU was one for Trojan fans to latch on to as hope of a mobile quarterback rising to the top of the heap. Now a redshirt sophomore, Sears will get a second chance to impress a new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in Graham Harrell.

Matt Fink has almost become the forgotten man in the quarterback group, but his cameo against Utah included almost as much potential as Sears’ against ASU. He remains the most veteran member of the quarterback room.

CHECK OUT: Five big recruiting needs for USC to address in 2020

There will be a new face among the quarterbacks this spring. Three-star quarterback Kedon Slovis out of Scottsdale will get his feet wet and have a great view of the ongoing quarterback battle.

Biggest Battle

Helton’s insistence that spring is a time for education, not competition, doesn’t ring true, especially when looking at the quarterback situation. All three returning quarterbacks will be in the thick of the biggest battle of all of spring.

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Daniels, Sears and Fink certainly can’t afford to take the coming practices as anything but their chance to make a strong first impression on Harrell. The quarterback who most quickly and thoroughly commands the Air Raid first will be the one with the upper hand when the competition is ultimately settled in Fall Camp.

Player to Watch

Sears is once again one of the top players to watch this spring, because he has so much to gain. Last year, the hope was he would make a Sam Darnold-esque rise from Year 1 to Year 2. That didn’t exactly happen, but another year of experience could put him closer to that level.

For Sears, it has never been a question of ability. He has a good enough arm to make all the throws accurately and he has great mobility. The search for consistency has been his biggest roadblock to truly contending for the starting job.

His athleticism may be his leg up on the competition, but comprehension of a new offensive system will be the thing to look for this spring. Ex-USC QB coach Bryan Ellis said last year that the reasons for Sears not starting were in areas the media and other observers don’t see. The hint seemed to be that his understanding of the scheme wasn’t at the level it needed to be. Whether that changes in 2019 will ultimately be reflected in where he stands among the quarterbacks this offseason.