Graham Harrell evaluates USC football’s quarterbacks in Spring Camp

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

USC football offensive coordinator Graham Harrell explained the strengths and weaknesses of Jack Sears, Matt Fink, Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels with Spring Camp near its close.

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When it comes to USC football’s quarterbacks, just about everyone seems to have an opinion. But what does the man whose evaluation of those passers matters most think?

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell gave his most comprehensive breakdown of the four quarterbacks competing for USC’s starting job in 2019.

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The evaluation started with redshirt sophomore Jack Sears.

“I think Jack’s probably the most athletic,” Harrell said, describing Sears as the best quarterback with the ball in his hand outside the pocket.

Sears has displayed his ability to throw on the run throughout spring. He has also taken off on his own to gain yardage more than any other quarterback this spring, but Harrell cautioned that such ability with his legs has a drawback.

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“Because he’s a better athlete sometimes I think he’s quicker to get out the pocket,” Harrell said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword with that.”

Sears has missed open passing options by pulling it down to run, Harrell said. That’s something for him to work on as the competition goes forward.

There was a double-edge sword element to Harrell’s evaluation of redshirt junior Matt Fink as well.

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Harrell credited Fink with being arguably the most competitive of the quarterbacks.

“He’s probably the most emotional of them,” Harrell said.

Emotion and energy can be a great asset, especially in an offense which needs to move at the tempo Harrell expects. Fink has shown himself to have the greatest sense of urgency and to be the most vocal about getting his teammates back to the line of scrimmage to get the next play out.

The trouble for Fink, according to Harrell, is that his emotions can get the best of him, especially when it comes to “talking noise.” The offensive coordinator had to talk to him about staying positive, noting how he can “get himself in trouble” when he turns negative.

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The wild swings of emotion have an affect of Fink’s play.

“Fink is really good when he’s on, but he struggles when he’s off,” Harrell said.

Harrell is looking for Fink to “be the same guy on every play,” which is an element Fink has already “improved tremendously” this spring.

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True freshman Kedon Slovis has caught Harrell’s eye because he just “does things right.”

For Harrell, Slovis has an advantage in this being his first experience of college football. He is working with a clean slate as far as the coaching he has received. The only voice in his head is Harrell’s and that has kept other voices from “clouding his mind.”

“I think Kedon is special with his arm,” Harrell said, praising the young quarterback for how the ball comes out of his hand.

Of course, Slovis’ inexperience has been a hindrance, as expected. Of the quarterbacks on Howard Jones Field, he has been most likely to be fooled by disguises from the defense. He also has a tendency to force throws that he shouldn’t, according to Harrell.

“I think that’s just being a freshman and learning college football,” Harrell said.

Incumbent starter JT Daniels, now in his sophomore year, has been consistent throughout spring ball, according to Harrell.

Daniels anticipates passes, throws the ball well, understands concepts and is “very smart,” Harrell said.

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As with the other quarterbacks, Daniels’ great strength is also a problem at times.

“JT gets in trouble when he overthinks,” Harrell said.

Harrell would like to see Daniels make quicker decisions, to “just see it and pull the trigger” instead of analyzing where all 11 players on the field are at all times.

The Air Raid is designed with the concept of “play, don’t think.” That seems to go against Daniels’ instincts, which are to slow things down.

“You’ve got to be able to keep the tempo going and play fast,” Harrell said.

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Harrell doesn’t expect to make a decision in the quarterback battle until after the conclusion of Fall Camp, giving USC’s passers another two dozen or so days of practice to show the offensive coordinator that they can take his evaluations of them to heart.

In Spring Camp, Harrell has been pleased with their response to his constructive criticism already.

“There’s been a ton of improvement,” he said.

All four know where the rest of the improvement must be made.