LOS ANGELES — USC began training camp last year with a quarterback competition.
Following two-plus weeks of practices, Max Browne edged Sam Darnold and was named the starter entering the season. Amid a 1-2 start, he was replaced by Darnold, who sparked the Trojans’ turnaround.
There is little question who sits atop the depth chart this August.
Darnold, who went 9-1 as the starter last season and led USC to a Rose Bowl victory, returned to campus as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
But Coach Clay Helton is left to settle who would take the first snap should Darnold be lost to injury for an extended period of time. Later this month, he will pick between two underclassmen, Matt Fink, a redshirt freshman from Glendora, and Jack Sears, a freshman from San Clemente who enrolled early in classes in January in order to participate in spring practice, as the backup quarterback.
USC is expected to finalize its depth chart when camp ends Aug. 19.
Through seven training-camp practices, Fink has taken a majority of the snaps with the second-team offense.
“I’m proud of Matt,” Helton said. “He’s come a long way,”
Like Sears, Fink enrolled early at USC for spring practice. Asked on Monday to assess the young passer, Helton remarked how this was his fourth camp since joining the program, including two spring practice sessions and now two training camps.
“You’re starting to see signs of being more comfortable,” Helton said. “The ball’s been coming out quicker. He’s making decisive decisions on time. And the accuracy has improved a bunch.”
Fink has at times displayed some promise. In an 11-on-11 period during the second practice of camp, he threw a touchdown pass of about 35 yards to receiver Jalen Greene, who was left open over the middle part of the field. Last Thursday, he was also intercepted twice by Ykili Ross.
Sears was the more decorated prospect in high school. He led San Clemente to a CIF State Division 1-A championship last December. The recruiting services Rivals.com and Scout.com both ranked him as a four-star recruit.
Helton said Sears has acclimated to college quickly.
“He’s further along in the process than I thought he’d be,” Helton said.
Tabbing him as Darnold’s backup, though, comes with a cost. USC could otherwise redshirt Sears.
“I’d be fibbing to you if it doesn’t enter your mind,” Helton said when asked if the ability to redshirt Sears would factor into his decision.
Last season, USC was mindful of…