Fall Camp Primer: The Quarterbacks

July 10, 2019
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Ask 100 football fans what’s the most important position on the field  and 99 responses will tell you it’s the quarterback position.  And that certainly holds true in USC’s new Air-Raid offense.  In Graham Harrell’s version of the Air-Raid offense, quick decisions and more importantly the right decision is paramount.

Clay Helton and Harrell have a stable of four scholarship QB’s to choose from, and three QBs return in 2019 with various degrees of experience. But how much will previous experience matter since all the quarterbacks are learning a new system implemented over the spring? 

With limited access to the Player Run Practices (prp’s), USC Scoop will do our best to provide an opinion on where the QB’s rank in the pecking order and what are their strengths & weaknesses.

You may remember USC Scoop was the first to let Trojan fans know that JT Daniels was reclassifying and forgoing his senior year of high school.  From that point forward it was a foregone conclusion he’d eventually win the starting job.  Perhaps that was showing a lack of respect to Matt Fink and Jack Sears who were already on the roster, but it wasn’t so much a lack of respect as much as it was recognizing how talented JT Daniels is.   

Daniels was born to play quarterback.  He’s one of those savant-like artists that sees or hears things before they actually develop.  Coach Harrell mentioned while critiquing JT, “Daniels anticipates passes, throws the ball well, understands concepts and is very smart,”   Now that sounds like a positive and for the most part it really is.  However, it can also play negatively into being productive.  Learning seems to come naturally for Daniels who jammed two years worth of schoolwork into a little over half a calendar year in order to be eligible in 2018.  However, sometimes thinking too much can be a negative.

One of the issues that Coach Harrell pointed out following the spring session was noticing Daniels has a tendency to want to read too much while looking for the big play.  “JT gets in trouble when he overthinks,” Harrell said“You’ve got to be able to keep the tempo going and play fast,”   In this offense the big pass play grows organically.  Quick to the line of scrimmage…read the defense…then quick and precise execution of a simplified playbook leads to big plays. 

If Daniels wants to remain the starter, he must to adapt to an up-tempo offense that is 180 degrees different than what USC was running in 2018.  If Daniels continues to grow and overcome his occasional paralysis by analysis, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the starting QB against Fresno St. in the season opener at the Coliseum on 8/31.  The chemistry he developed with Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown should help to make for a seamless transition to the new offense.

So are we left with the battle to be No. 2 on the depth chart?  To be blunt…yes. 

Matt Fink entered the transfer portal this past spring and apparently was all set to transfer to Illinois.  However sometime between then and now, Fink had a change of heart and decided to stay with the girl that he brought to the dance.  Matt is another athletic guy playing QB for USC and that should play well into the Air-Raid offense, especially with the run-pass option package. Fink’s strengths are his legs and a fairly strong arm.  Coach Harrell also thinks Matt might be the most competitive.   Coach Harrell also said “He’s probably the most emotional of them,”  “Fink is really good when he’s on, but he struggles when he’s off,”   

Fink came out strong to start the spring and even looked like the best guy at times, but he may have also received feedback from Helton & Harrell leaving him feeling like he’d have better opportunities elsewhere. With a sophomore incumbent starter  returning (RS) junior, Fink probably recognizes that his opportunity to start is slim at best.

The way USC finished 2018 with true freshman Daniels leading the way, many Trojan fans turned into Jack Sears supporters for the starting job after giving fans a taste of his abilities in a loss to ASU. With starter Daniels out with a concussion and Fink out with broken ribs, Sears saw his first career action versus ASU and completed 71.4% of his passes (20-of-28) for 235 yards and 2 TDs (6 and 48 yards) and he also gained 10 yards on 10 carries (1.0 avg). 

Sears showed the same dynamic skills during spring camp he displayed versus ASU.  “I think Jack’s probably the most athletic,” Harrell said,  “Because he’s a better athlete sometimes I think he’s quicker to get out the pocket,” “It’s kind of a double-edged sword with that.”  Harrell continued, “Sears has missed open passing options by pulling it down to run...that’s something for him to work on as the competition goes forward.”

Sears also displayed the same frustrating inconsistency when passing that keeps him from taking the reign.  One great looking pass would lead to a where was he going with that one pass. So the staff is left wondering which Sears they’re going to get…and that’s what may be ultimately holding him back from being the starter.  Going into fall camp Sears should be the No. 2 guy behind Daniels, but true-freshman QB Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200) may have a say in the matter.

Slovis entered USC early after graduating from Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, AZ and immediately wowed the staff, his teammates, and gawking onlookers.  He was arguably the second best QB this spring, showing a full understanding of the offense and throwing pinpoint passes. Perhaps some of that can be attributed to his high school QB coach, Kurt Warner.  Yes, the same Kurt Warner who led the Rams to a Super Bowl win before being elected into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Slovis showed everyone no stage was too big for him and he has the tools to push for playing time.  Granted, this was spring and he’s yet to face real live action where he knows he’s going to get hit by guys that want to inflict pain, but you can tell by watching him that he doesn’t lack for confidence.  As Coach Harrell told us during the spring, “he just does everything right.”

Whatever the case may be with the quarterback pecking order, there is a foundation of talent to work with in 2019 and a decision won’t be made before fall camp.

 

 
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