2021 Fall Camp Preview: The quarterbacks

Erik McKinneyabout 2 months
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Kedon Slovis
(John McGillen/USC Athletics)

USC's 2021 fall camp kicks off with the first full practice on Friday afternoon and we'll be previewing camp this week with a position-by-position look at the biggest storyline, notable new and returning names and what to expect during the 14 fall camp and 25 total practices before USC starts its season against San Jose State in the Coliseum on Sept. 4.

Quarterback

Kedon Slovis returns for his third year as the USC starting quarterback and everything appears to be in place for him to take a significant step forward from last season's occasionally disjointed performance. He heads into fall camp fully healthy and completely in control of this offense and team.

Head coach Clay Helton said during Pac-12 media day that Slovis' maturity and development have been two of the major points to stand out to him about the difference between last season and this coming one. Slovis has been able to participate in a full offseason and develop a better connection with his receivers and running backs during on-campus work this summer. He heads into fall in great shape and the feeling at this point is there's a major bounce back season in store after a season that included some outstanding throws and clutch performances, but was noteworthy for more than an insignificant number of wobbly and off-target passes and really just one of six games the Trojans were able to control from beginning to end.

Slovis heads into his junior season (potentially his final one at USC) as the school's all-time leader in completion percentage, at 70%, and 10th on USC's career list with 5,309 total yards. He'll need support from the running game and offensive line to help USC get all the way where it wants to be, but a bulk of the production this season is going to come from Slovis and he appears ready to shoulder the load. He looks solid during the spring and the first handful of practices (or even throws) during camp should signal how ready he is to assert himself as a national leader at the position. For USC fans, the proof will be in the first couple drives against the Spartans in the Coliseum.

The Trojans hope the backup quarterback position doesn't have to have the same impact on the season it did in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but it'll be a very interesting spot to watch this fall.

We got a preview of the position battle during the spring, when true freshmen Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss enrolled early and got the competition with veteran Mo Hasan started for the backup role. With Hasan sidelined this fall after suffering a torn ACL during the spring game, the spotlight on Dart and Moss will shine even brighter. Like Slovis in 2019, either could be one snap away from significant playing time this fall.

At this point, Dart has to be considered the favorite to win the backup job based on spring performance. He came in hot after a phenomenal senior season that earned him the National Gatorade Player of the Year honor and carried that momentum into camp. There were some early hiccups as he dealt with the speed of the game at this level, but not even Slovis provided as many "wow" moments at the position. Dart brings that unmistakable "it" factor to the quarterback spot and is already showing the ability to become a future team leader. His athleticism as a quarterback is off the charts and he was able to showcase a little of his running ability, albeit during non-contact practices and his tremendous arm strength and accuracy throwing on the run.

Moss was a little slower to get going during the spring, a potential byproduct of him not being able to participate in a senior season before heading to USC. Eventually, he made some big throws and showed he belongs at this level. Now, we'll get a chance to see what an offseason in the program and getting those summer PRP reps with teammates has done for his development. There is no expectation for either freshman to go out and win the backup job immediately this fall and Helton has said repeatedly that he doesn't want Dart or Moss to focus on where they are on the depth chart following each practice. Rather, he wants them to continue to progress every time out and prepare themselves as best they can to potentially be called upon this season. But this will be a big fall for both to grab that leg up in the race to replace Slovis whenever he heads off to the NFL.

With Hasan out for the year, USC turned to the transfer portal to bring in Brendon Costello, a redshirt sophomore who spent the 2019 season at Oklahoma State. He's a 6-foot, 195-pound quarterback with good athleticism who was a three-star recruit out of high school. He won't be expected to do anything like push Slovis for playing time, but he gives the Trojans a legitimate fourth quarterback for the depth chart and practice. It'll be worth watching to see if he can get in that mix for the No. 2 spot ahead of the freshmen, but he spent last fall not playing football while at Saddleback Junior College so there could be an adjustment period as he gets back in the rhythm of playing football at this level. He attended San Clemente High School and will be a walk-on this fall.

USC has two more walk-on quarterbacks for the practice field, in redshirt freshman Isaac Ward, who was with the team last fall, and Brad Aoki, who came to USC in 2018 and joined the team as a walk-on wide receiver in 2019, then moved to quarterback to help with depth for the 2020 season.