Time to shine

CLEMSON - Let's not sugarcoat the situation for one second. With the loss of Jacoby Ford, Clemson's young wide receivers need to step up in a major way this coming season.

That means running precise routes, no drops in critical situations and gaining yards after contact.

Simply put, Clemson's wide receivers need to become a playmakers again.

And perhaps no receiver on the current roster has been talked about more this spring than red-shirt freshman Bryce McNeal.

That's not to suggest others can't do the job, mind you, it's just that McNeal spent his first year in Tigertown on the scout team, when other players were actually spending their respective seasons trying to win an ACC Championship.

Now the former four-star standout from Minnesota is getting his first glimpse of what his role could be this fall in his first action on the field.

"I'm getting there," he told CUTigers in a recent interview. "I'm just trying to keep working hard and trying to get my knowledge up where the other guys are with the offense and stuff like that. I'm glad we've got a bunch of guys working hard like we do because we are all trying to help each other out to become a better team."

The story on McNeal upon his arrival on campus last summer wasn't his speed or his route-running, it was more of his strength and overall weight as he reported to summer conditioning at a mere 168 pounds.

And every bit of it showed on his 6-foot-2.5 inch frame.

Now, almost 10 pounds heavier, he's more confident than ever in what he'll be bringing to the table this spring.

"I'm comfortable where I am right now with the weight and my strength. I came here at 169 but right now I'm at 178 so I feel good there," he said. "At one point I was up to 183 but really that was all water weight.

"The main thing was my strength and I feel very good about where that is right now."

Of course, his emergence into a starting position can't come soon enough for an offensive unit that lost its top three pass catchers from a year ago in Jacoby Ford, C.J. Spiller and Michael Palmer.

After all, somebody has to catch passes this fall and chances are it will come from either McNeal, Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones or one of the incoming freshmen.

And even if Dwayne Allen, a tight end, gets involved, a wide receiver still has to step into this offense and become a playmaker of sorts.

"Nobody came here to be a backup," McNeal said. "I came here to start and if I don't start it's nobody's fault but my mine so it's not like I can get mad at anybody but myself.

"There's good competition out there right now. We are just all trying to keep working hard. That's what spring is all about ... getting better. Each day you try to get better in preparation for the games that are coming months from today."

While we don't know with certainty who will become Kyle Parker or Tajh Boyd's go-to receiver this coming fall, don't be surprised if McNeal ends up being the guy. He's considered one of the fastest of the group and also has some of the best hands.

But he'll still have to prove himself to the coaching staff first- and a big step in that direction starts Saturday with Clemson's first scrimmage of spring practice.

He's not hiding out on the scout team anymore, he's ready to compete for playing time, and possibly a starting position.

"The scrimmages are going to be important and I think a lot of us look at the spring game itself like a game, so we all know what's on the line," he said. "I'm ready."

We'll find out soon enough whether or not he's right.

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