The anticipation had been building for more than a year, when Bru McCoy burst out of his stance early last Saturday morning, bodied up cornerback Adonis Otey and caught a touchdown pass at the edge of the end zone in front of an empty Coliseum.
It was yet another example of the former five-star wideout making his presence known during USC’s camp — and yet another sign that McCoy may earn a permanent place in the Trojans’ passing offense sooner rather than later. USC coach Clay Helton said on Monday that the redshirt freshman looks “extremely comfortable” and that he made “a major step forward” during the Trojans’ first live scrimmage action. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell raved last week about how difficult McCoy was to cover.
But as McCoy makes that long-awaited leap, the question arises how quickly he might work into an especially deep USC rotation at receiver. If last season is any indication, it could be longer than his early performance might suggest.
Like last season, the Trojans have a cemented top-three at receiver, with Amon-ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns on the outside and Drake London in the slot. London was the insurgent in that top group last season, but with Michael Pittman Jr. catching 101 passes, it took the top-flight freshman half of the season to carve out a trusted place in the receiver rotation, even after he turned heads in training camp.
Before Oct. 19, London was held catchless in five of six games. He burst onto the scene after that, finishing with five touchdowns in his final seven games.
His trajectory could be a reasonable model for what to expect from McCoy this season.
“We knew what we had with Ra and Pitt and TV,” Helton said on Monday. “We were looking for that next guy that could produce for us, and you look up and there's Drake, and I think he had over 700 yards for us last year. So there'll be some — one, two, three guys for us this year that'll stand out for us.”
Similar promises were made to expand the receiver rotation last season, but London wound up being the only young wideout to make an impact. Outside of Pittman, St. Brown, Vaughns and London, four other receivers caught 11 total passes last season.
Of those four, two have since transferred. Of the remaining two, Kyle Ford is currently injured and Munir McClain is suspended.
McCoy appears to be the furthest along of USC’s young receivers this season, though he’s hardly the only one earning early plaudits. Freshman Gary Bryant Jr. has also made an impression as a movable piece in the offense and a speedy returner on special teams. Helton also mentioned freshman Joshua Jackson Jr. and sophomore John Jackson as potential contributors.
How long it might take for any of them to contribute in a meaningful way is to be determined.
While Marlon Tuipulotu was slated to step into a bigger role along USC’s defensive line, Tuli Tuipulotu was set to step into his older brother’s shadow. So far, both have impressed.
Helton singled out Marlon as one of the standouts of Saturday’s scrimmage, praising his leadership in the absence of All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Jay Tufele, who opted out of the season.
The younger Tuipulotu, meanwhile, has had “one of the better camps of anybody on our team,” Helton said.
“He looks like a monster,” Helton said of the freshman defensive end. “He’s 275 but runs like he's 240 — I mean, great athleticism, has pass-rushing skills. Obviously, his older brother is on him every day making sure that he's doing right on and off the field, so he has a really bright future.”
Junior linebacker Kana’i Mauga continues to deal with a hamstring injury, but Helton said he expects Mauga to be ready for USC’s opener against Arizona State. … Redshirt junior linebacker Juliano Falaniko severely sprained an ankle that will keep him out several weeks. … Cornerbacks Dorian Hewett and Jayden Williams are both dealing with minor back injuries and are expected to return to practice in the coming days.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.