uscfootball.com/Katja Liebing

Back at it with another QB in the mix

USC's Trojans returned to the practice field Tuesday to get ready for Penn State in the Rose Bowl and did so -- in pants -- and with a new quarterback.

Jalen Greene said he hadn't thought about it until Tuesday when asked. He's one of three homegrown USC quarterbacks helping the Trojans get ready for the Rose Bowl. And that's a pretty big deal.

"I don't think it's really hit me yet," the quarterback-turned-wide-receiver-turned-quarterback/wide receiver for the Rose Bowl said. "I'm right down the street from Pasadena, well not right down the street," but the Inglewood guy is close enough as he joins San Clemente's Sam Darnold and Glendora's Matt Fink.

And while redshirting freshman Fink probably doesn't get a call here and have to burn his redshirt, he is getting much more work with the second team now that Max Browne, working out his graduate transfer for the spring, is missing for the first time in four years.

The plan, of course, is for Sam to go all the way, or as long as he has to, and Jalen, who will do double prep work as a wide receiver, to be available in an emergency. "Coach [Clay Helton] said I'd be the backup to Sam and save Matt's redshirt," Jalen said. "It wasn't a big shock . . . I have absolutely no problem saving Matt's redshirt."

And no problem going back to quarterback even if he didn't don the yellow jersey he wore in August. "It's like riding a bike, I know the calls," Jalen said after an error-free practice that saw him dial down the speed of his delivery. Now that he's one of the wide receivers, Jalen said, he takes seriously the word of freshman Michael Pittman. "He said I throw it too hard."

What was noticeable Tuesday was how quickly Jalen got it into gear on the run-pass option when he kept the ball. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound redshirt sophomore from Serra can fly. But he says he looks at football "through a quarterback's eyes . . . that's how I learned the game."

It's an idea echoed later by Helton. "It's so easy to bring him back," Clay said. ""He madeall the calls today . . . it was not a problem." 

But this isn't all about looking ahead. "Max is my friend," Jalen said. "I hope everything goes well for him."

It's a sentiment shared by starter Darnold, one of the sensations of the college football world the last two months of the season after taking over the position from Max. "It's a bummer that he's not here," Sam said. "You just have to make the most of it and move on . . . Max is a smart guy. He shared his tips with me." And vice versa.

And now Max is no longer in the quarterback room. And the third-year player is learning from the second-year guy. "Sam's a great athlete but his mindset is a little different," Jalen said. "As a receiver I might take more hits. Not that Sam can't take a hit, he can, it's just that he's smarter than I am."

Banner . . . on coming back

He got it exactly right almost a year ago when he decided to come back for a final season, Zach Banner said. He talked about going over things with Clay and praising the way "he listens to his players." And how it's worked out well for him. "I think I proved I'm a dominant player," said the 6-9, 350-pound fifth-year senior named first-team All-Pac-12 again and with one first-team All-American selection.

The cool thing about that ll-America honor, Zach said, is that other than after each win, it's the only time that O-line coach Neil Callaway "ever praised me . . . he's the meanest person, and you can print that, but he's also the best line coach I've ever played for."

"They love him off the field," Clay said of the former Bear Bryant player who came in with a mindset to make them "physical . . . no group works harder," Clay said, noting that he's the one who calls break time for the O-line. "It's definitely a love-hate relationship," and one Clay loves when he talks about how balanced the offense is now and how they've given up just 11 sacks.  

Scouting Penn State

 Darnold had a few quick takes after watching the Big Ten championship game and then some Penn State film. On the game, "I thought Wisconsin was going to win," he said after the Badgers piled up a 28-7 halftime lead. But that's not how it turned out. "They do their assignments . . . they won the Big Ten . . . they have a great defense . . . they're technique sound . . . and they've won big games . . . they have great athletes," Sam said, "but so do we."

Helton was a bit more specific. He said "it all starts with [QB Trace] McSorley . . . 37 points a game . . . 25 touchdown passes, just five interceptions . . . and [Saquon] Barkley is as good a back as we've seen all year . . . and Chris Godwin is a big body, jump ball wide receiver with 11 TDs" . . . Clay is also very impressed with his buddy from their time at Memphis together, defensive coordinator Brent Pry, "an aggressive play-caller" who uses the middle as the strength of the Nittany Lions defense going back to safety Marcus Allen with the great name and more than 100 tackles to his credit.  

Tuesday footnoted

JuJu Smith-Schuster says he's "having second thoughts" on leaving early for the NFL Draft and will decide after the Rose Bowl . . .Clay said the team got in four informal workouts last week, not the three we knew about, and by the time the Rose Bowl gets here, they'll have had 18 practices with each of the next three weeks the same game-week schedule as during the season so this week, the next and the next, they're preparing as if they play Penn State (on Saturday, the next two weeks) and on Monday after four days off for Christmas beginning a Wednesday-Sunday practice week . . . That's much different from last year when after the Pac-12 Championship Game week, USC had just seven practices to get ready for Wisconsin and none in full pads . . . Clay said Ronald Jones will keep getting the bulk of the work in the backfield the way he's been going but that senior Justin Davis should be fully healed up and ready to go on his ankle . . . Clay also said the only thing that will keep them from getting the ball to Adoree' on offense is the limitations playing defense against a PSU offense that likes to throw it deep requiring DBs to stay fresh with all that running.  "When he touches the ball, special things happen," Clay said. "You'll definitely see that." . . .Injury list had O-lineman Khaliel Rodgers out of pads in concussion protocol and DB Jonathan Lockett getting shut down after today's practice for Friday surgery on his hip that hopefully allows him to be back for next season's start . . . Some minor issues: JuJu with a bit of a wrist sprain still although not apparent in practice, and Daniel Imatorbhebhe with a hip flexor, likewise not apparent as both made big plays . . . For more play-by-play from Tuesday's practice, go to TUESDAY ROSE BOWL PREP GHOST NOTES.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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