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Musings from Arledge: QB Competition, Looking Forward

The four-man quarterback race continues.  The old saying is if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any quarterbacks.  Far less popular is the saying if you have four quarterbacks, you have two guys who don’t really have a chance to win the job and everybody knows it.  Now you’re down to two, and if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any quarterbacks.  So does USC have any quarterbacks? 

I think so.  I think the two guys who are really competing for the job – Slovis and Fink were never going to win the starting job this year – can both be successful.  But I’m operating on faith a little, because that position wasn’t exactly a strength last year.

As for who should win the Daniels-Sears competition, put me in the agnostic category.  I understand the appeal of Sears – even beyond the fact that on any struggling team, the backup quarterback is always the team’s most popular player with fans.  But Sears can move, and I recognize how valuable it is to have a quarterback who can make plays with his feet.  Still, that’s not the key to the position.  Running helps, but a quarterback has to be able to throw.   Running ability is a luxury, it’s just icing on the cake if the guy can throw.  Reggie Perry could run.  Matt Leinart couldn’t.  The question is whether Jack Sears can read a defense and accurately get the ball to the right guy.  If he can do that as well as Daniels, or even close to as well, the added running dimension probably means he’s the right guy.

Can he do that?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure if anybody knows.  But I have yet to hear anybody who watches a lot of USC practices tell me that Jack Sears outplays JT Daniels in practice.  I think that tells us something.  If one guy outplays the other on the practice field, shouldn’t he start?  I hear a lot of people say Sears is a “gamer.”  He might be.  He was certainly a great high school QB.  You know who else was a great high school QB?  JT Daniels.  And Max Browne. 

And other than high school performances and practices, what do we have to go on with Sears?  One good performance against a mediocre Arizona State team?  That’s not much of a sample size.  And, frankly, it wasn’t the greatest test.  It was a home game against a team that was 7th in the conference in scoring defense and 8th in the conference in total defense.  That wasn’t USC’s 2008 defense he was going up against.  And Sears played well that day.  But USC scored 35 points, 7 on a punt return, and 7 more on a trick play.  I’m a little skeptical that Jack Sears is superior to JT Daniels.  He might be, but we have limited evidence in support of that position right now.  That being said, if he’s named the starter, I have no reason to doubt he’ll be successful.

And Daniels?  Look, I saw what everybody else saw.  The guy can throw a pretty pass, and his deep ball isn’t half bad … when he’s not throwing off his back foot and falling away.  JT struggled last year.  His mechanics fell apart.  His confidence fell apart.  His leadership was non-existent.  But true freshmen QB’s tend to struggle.  And the few true freshman quarterbacks who don’t struggle are in much better situations than JT was in last year.  True freshmen QB’s playing behind a bad O line, who get decent snaps only about half the time, who are playing for terrible offensive coordinators, in an offensive system where casual fans can guess the play call with Tony Romo-like accuacy?  Yeah, freshmen QB’s under those circumstances are going to get killed.  Every single one of them.  JT Daniels didn’t have a chance last year.  So I think we need to cut him some slack. 

Bottom line: I don’t know who the better option is, but I suspect they both could succeed if given the opportunity, quality coaching, and a decent offensive line, especially with the skill position talent around them.  Whether they’ll get those things is a mystery still to be answered.

Things I’m looking forward to this season:    

1. Those wide receivers.  They probably have 8 guys with the talent to play in the NFL, and Amon-Ra is a future first round pick.  Those guys are a tough matchup for anybody in the country.  USC never has trouble recruiting wideouts.  But I’m not sure we’ve seen a group this deep, or an offense so based on wide receiver production.  I’m excited.

2. A healthy Stephen Carr.  Carr just wasn’t the same back last year.  If he’s healthy this year — and the early returns sound promising — he’s the primary back.  Period.  I like the other guys, too.  There are a lot of good players in that backfield.  But Carr is the most-talented back USC has brought in since Reggie.  He was so explosive before his injury, better than RoJo was as a freshman, and RoJo was excellent.  Carr has size.  He’s a natural pass catcher.  A healthy Stephen Carr is a Heisman candidate in 2020.  (You know, if USC still runs the football, and if the offensive line blocks people.  Yes, big assumptions.)

3. Notre Dame Stadium.  It’s my favorite sports venue in the world.  There is nothing like Notre Dame Stadium for a USC-ND game.  If you’ve never been, you need to go.  Stop.  Don’t argue with me.  Don’t make excuses.  Just do it.  Trust me.

4. Palaie.  A number of years ago, I asked my high school coach, who was then an assistant coach for a team in Murietta, what he thought of a USC recruit named Su’a Cravens.  He said, “He’s a one-man wave of destruction.”  I liked that description.  I think it applies to Palaie.  There are some pretty good players in the linebacking corps right now.  But there is nobody else like this guy.  I don’t think we’ve seen a guy with his skills at LB since 2008.  He is different, an absolute monster, and he will wreck some opposing offenses this year.  Enjoy him.  We only have two more years to watch him on Saturdays.

5. Tim Drevno’s influence on the O line.  It’s hard to be a believer in USC’s offensive line.  There are some things in life you can’t unsee, and the USC offensive line has served up a number of them over the last couple of years.  But I think Drevno is an excellent coach.  I thought he was very good his first time at USC, and you don’t spend that many years with Jim Harbaugh unless you know what you’re doing.  Harbaugh isn’t a fan favorite around these parts, and he’s admittedly something of a weirdo.  But that guy knows physical offensive football.  He knows O line play.  And he had Drevno coaching his lines for a very long time.  No, we’re not going to see a USC offensive line from the 1970’s this year.  But I think they’ll be better.  I think Drevno will make them better.  (Oh please, please, let them be better.)

6. Whether Graham Harrell is a rising star or a guy getting rich off his old coach’s success and reputation.  I’m not going to argue whether Harrell is an upgrade at OC.  Honestly, USC could have blindly traded OC’s with any other random D-1 program in the country and felt pretty good about it.  Much of the time last year, USC’s offense ran around so confused it looked like every single guy was suffering from severe concussion symptoms.  I’m pretty sure we won’t see that this year.  But is he an elite guy like Mike Leach?  We just don’t know yet.  He’s never run an offense on this own, and he’s never done it at this level.  I think he’ll at least be competent, and that would be a major upgrade.  But if he’s more than that, if he’s a young Mike Leach, this will be a fun offense to watch

7. Revenge on the bruins.  I’m a known pessimist around these parts; I am probably right now being savaged on the message boards by posters who never bothered to read this article but are convinced that it’s overly negative and worthy of attack.  So it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m still not sure what we’re going to see this year and certainly not sold on a successful season.  But I will make one prediction now: USC beats UCLA.  The alternative is too ugly to contemplate.  Besides, the Trojans almost always win this game when there’s something on the line, and this year, the winner probably cracks the top 40 in recruiting.  So there’s that. 

8. Lane Kiffin Day on August 31.  I think it’s exciting that USC is honoring Fresno State’s greatest living alum at the opener.  I know there were some hard feelings between Lane and USC, so it’s nice that both sides have been willing to let bygones be bygones.  I’m told that Lane will run both teams out of the tunnel, will flip the coin, and then officially check the air pressure in all of the game balls.  And instead of a flyover, the marching band will wheel an aircraft onto the field at halftime and recreate the most famous personnel decision in LAX tarmac history.  Don’t miss it.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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