USC was an afterthought during the opening of the late signing period on Wednesday, as the Trojans announced the signing of just one player, who had already committed.
Head coach Clay Helton shared thoughts on the day and the state of the program on the Trojans Live show Wednesday evening.
According to Helton, signing just one player on Wednesday was partly by design, as the Trojans wanted to keep two scholarships available in order to potentially go after players in the transfer portal during or after spring ball. Last year, USC was able to add offensive tackle Drew Richmond, cornerback Chris Steele and wide receiver Bru McCoy with scholarships that went unused during the late signing period. Richmond and Steele wound up starting games for the Trojans, while McCoy could add to the talented roster of receivers ready to make an impact this season.
The Trojans targeted running back Michael Drennen II, who signed with Kentucky, and quarterback Blake Shapen, who signed with Baylor. USC also extended a late offer to Boise State quarterback commitment Cade Fennegan, who was announced by the Broncos, but could still wind up at USC.
Helton did speak highly of the one player USC did sign Wednesday, as well as another addition that he was unable to talk about during the early signing period.
Tight end Jack Yary has a name that most USC fans will recognize, and a game that all Trojan fans should appreciate.
“We’re really excited about Jack,” Helton said of Yary, the son of former USC offensive lineman Ron Yary.
Helton said Yary is that “new breed of tight end,” comparing his ability to flex out as a wide receiver to Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce. Yary is also a very capable blocker, and would seem to have the ability to grow into a very good offensive tackle down the line.
“In a class where we didn’t have a lot of scholarships, this is one that we couldn’t pass up,” Helton said, calling Yary “a talented we knew could help us immediately.”
Helton also spoke glowingly about wide receiver Gary Bryant, who signed with USC during the early period, but didn’t announce his commitment until January, at the All-American Bowl.
“There’s fast and then there’s Gary,” Helton said. “Talk about elite speed.”
Bryant is slight of frame at just 165 pounds, but he is truly explosive with or without the ball and should give the Trojans a weapon that doesn’t currently exist on the roster.
Helton said both Bryant and fellow receiver signee Joshua Jackson give the Trojans weapons on the outside.
“Both men, when we watched them, when they matched up one-on-one, it was over,” Helton said. “They were elite at beating their defender.”
Bryant will also be given an opportunity as a returner, both on kicks and punts.
Helton again praised USC’s ability to load up on big men in this class, as nine of the 13 signees will play on the offensive and defensive lines — six offensive linemen and three defensive linemen.
“When you commit nine to the offensive and defensive front, it may not be the sexiest class when you sign big men, but it’s what wins championships,” Helton said.
There was excitement over keeping four of the five players who looked into declaring for the NFL Draft, as only left tackle Austin Jackson declared and will leave early. While the transfer portal is a possible spot USC could look to replace him, Helton also expressed hope that players already on the roster could fill that spot, specifically naming Andrew Vorhees and Jalen McKenzie, and also adding that some of the young additions could help there.
Helton also spoke at length about new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who has been busy recruiting, meeting with the team and building his defensive staff since arriving at USC two weeks ago.
“High energy, discipline, toughness,” were a few words Helton used to describe Orlando so far. “He comes to work with guns a-blazing.”
Helton said three of the most frustrating days of his life have come while lining up against Orlando-led defenses, when USC played Utah State in 2013, and both times USC met Texas in 2017 and 2018.
“Two years ago, it would have been hard to get Todd Orlando,” Helton said. “He’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.”
Helton said Orlando has arrived at USC and brought a “no bad days” mentality, looking to put his stamp on the defense and the team overall. Orlando will also bring a different defensive scheme with him, as his calling card has been bringing pressure from anywhere and everywhere on the field. Helton also said the team has the ability to rotate looks up front, able to go four-down or move into an odd front.
The Trojans are without several assistant coaches at this point, but Helton said that Orlando will finalize those spots within the next two weeks.
Helton said a cornerbacks coach will be hired soon, implying that the coach has been targeted and they are close to an announcement. A special teams coordinator will be hired, and Helton said Orlando is “working on looking at the defensive line position.”