The traffic around Los Angeles this summer has been, frankly, insane and it’s only getting worse.
You can no longer, as local man Art Fern used to suggest, "Take the San Diego Freeway to the Ventura Freeway, drive to the Slauson Cutoff, get out of your car, cut off your Slauson..."
Our lanes are clogged, our Slausons slogged, potholes needed filled and when it comes to fuel efficiency and emissions, well, we’re all just exhausted.
Nothing better personifies, amplifies and\or exemplifies the endemic situation around town than the backfield logjams at our local training camps.
Six combined quarterbacks at USC and UCLA are competing for two open parking spots. For the next three weeks desperate young men will circle the block looking for the chance to run over granny to make a bank deposit.
It’s complicated, but also exhilarating.
Here’s the situation: After two relatively stable seasons in the huddle, with Sam Darnold at USC and Josh Rosen at UCLA, the stable gates have now been flung wide open.
Darnold and Rosen have fled (early) to the NFL as first-round draft picks for the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. We thank them for their dedication, service and sportsmanship even if they only met each other once on the field.
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USC and UCLA open fall camps with uncertainty at the position you need certainty most. The Trojans and Bruins have only hours, literally, to decide who is going to start at quarterback on Sept. 1 in local freeway-access games against UNLV (Coliseum) and Cincinnati (Rose Bowl).
Don’t worry for now about how you’re going to maneuver through our rat maze to get to those venues.
Each program has three players vying for the starting spot and don’t think for a minute this can’t get screwed up.
Three years ago, USC coach Clay Helton looked long and hard in August and decided to start Max Browne, not Darnold, for the first three games.
That wrong decision might have cost the Trojans a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Don’t expect Decision 2018 to be any easier and there’s even a chance Helton makes the same mistake by not picking the quarterback out of San Clemente High school.
"We've got 25 practices," Helton said at Pac 12 Media Day. "I'll have somebody before the opening game. I don't have a crystal ball."
The young bucks competing this summer, at our celebrated programs 13 miles apart, come in all shapes, sizes and skill sets, and that’s what makes this so intriguing.
The fine young men looking to replace Darnold at USC are returners Matt Fink, Jack Sears and first-year freshman JT Daniels, while those vying for Rosen’s spot are Devon Modster, Wilton Speight and first-year freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Lurking in the shadows of these competitions are the strong-minded guardians, quarterback gurus and new, looser, NCAA transfer rules.
Coaches Helton and Chip Kelly will be aided in their decisions, thankfully, by a new rule that allows players to play up to four games without having to burn a redshirt season.
Keep in mind: Fink, the only veteran in USC’s mix, and Daniels have fathers who have already been extensively quoted in the Los Angeles Times.
Fink’s dad Mike is an agent—don’t worry he’s in real estate, based out of Rancho Cucamonga--who is already selling his son like a three-bedroom condo on Lake Arrowhead. Fink & Fink are clearly the underdogs against more celebrated recruits.
“I don’t think Matt’s just going to hand over the keys to the kingdom, so to speak,” Mike Fink told the LAT.
Steve Daniels, the father of JT, the superstar frosh out of Mater Dei, who led his team to 15-0 last year and the mythical national championship, has some thinking he could be some sort of hybrid of Marv Marinovich and LaVar Ball.
Steve has moved molehills and mountains to position JT for this opportunity, which included the classic power-dad move of holding his son back for an extra year of eighth grade.
“JT is Steve’s hobby,” JT’s mom, Alison, told the L.A. Times last month. “He’s consumed by it.”
That doesn’t sound healthy, although people I talked to at USC think Steve is more a benevolent dictator and not the second-coming of LaVar—who wants that?
Stuck in the middle of this parent trap is Jack Sears, who followed Sam Darnold to USC out of San Clemente.
Very recent history tells us to never, ever, underestimate a San Clemente quarterback in a USC quarterback competition. I watched on TV as Sears, limping like a wounded animal, dragged his high school team to the state championship.
So, basically, you’re going to have shoot him.
At UCLA, Chip Kelly is faced with his own three-headed Modster, led by Devon, a dual-threat who looked solid in spot-duty relief of Rosen last season. On the other end is blue-chip frosh Thompson-Robinson, a multi-tool out of powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, who certainly did not come to UCLA to hold a clip board.
The middle man is Michigan fifth-year transfer Wilton Speight, a lumbering pocket passer who most recently suffered Jim Harbaugh’s slings and arrows.
"I'm excited about adding that experience to the table," Kelly said at Pac Media Day.
The best thing Speight has brought to the table, so far, is the story of Harbaugh not wanting his Michigan quarterbacks to eat chicken because it was a “nervous bird.” Thank you, Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report, for that gem.
Speight seems an odd fit but Kelly, much more than Helton, has proven adept at adjusting his high-flying offenses to his personnel.
Kelly, at Oregon, coached free-wheeling Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli and Marcus Mariota, but he also took the Ducks to the national title game with a pocket passer named Darron Thomas. And don’t forget Kelly also coached lead-footed Nick Foles in the NFL.
Kelly loves to think out-of-the-box, and Speight could be the long-shot purveyor of that genius.
Kelly, at this point, isn't asking much: "Can you put us in a position to stay out of harm's way?"
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