The Rebel offensive line needed a "suprise" during spring training.
With four starters - LT Michael Oher, C Corey Actis, RG John Jerry and RT Maurice Miller - returning, there were some big shoes to fill at left guard.
Last year's offensive line leader, Andrew Wicker, had graduated and there was a dire need for someone to step up and take his place.
While there were several viable candidates, only one would emerge as the clear-cut choice.
Out of the woodwork, after a redshirt year recovering from an achilles tendon tear and a year of "learning and getting back healthy," rising sophomore Reid Neely was "the man" in spring.
"I gained a lot of confidence in spring," said Neely, "but the work had just begun. I'm still competing for a job."
Reid has spent the past few months doing what every other accountable Rebel has been doing - working toward the 2007 season.
"We're getting in shape, getting stronger, getting faster - the same as every summer," Neely noted. "We have been very focused on conditioning.
"We also come in with the young guys and do a lot of film study. We've changed some little things since spring and we are all trying to be tuned in to those changes before August comes around. We go in by ourselves and follow Corey Actis' lead. He lays out what we are going to watch on film and walk through outside. He gives us a quiz and makes sure we are on top of things since we can't have much contact with the coaches in the summer."
Neely spent a lot of time watching his spring cutups. What did he do well and what does he need to work on based on his spring performance?
"What I think I did well was knowing what I was doing. When you know what you are doing, and you can come off the ball at 100% with some confidence you are doing the right things, it gives you a huge advantage over someone who isn't sure of his assignments," he explained. "What I need to work on is little technique stuff - staying lower, keeping my elbows tucked inside, just little things.
"I'm also trying to master everything about what to do on certain calls against certain defensive looks. I know what I am doing, but it needs to be rote, automatic."
Reid said he did not really surprise himself in spring. He approached the session with a lot of confidence and belief in himself and his ability.
"I was so confident going into spring. I can't say I expected to do great or anything, but I expected to do a lot better than I had done before," he noted. "It also helped my mentality knowing there was an opening, that someone had to fill Andrew's shoes."
As a group, Neely is very excited about the progress of the OL and the prospects of 2007 up front.
"I think we shored up our pass protection a lot in spring because Corey and all of us worked on our communication very hard and we seem to be making big strides in that area. If Corey makes the right calls and we execute his calls, we will be better in pass protection because there is less confusion with what we are supposed to do now," Reid said. "Corey is vital in that process and he's gotten so much better. He's a big key in us being better at pass protection and I could feel it all coming together in spring. He did an awesome job and, in turn, we got a lot better."
For this stage of his career, Reid is pretty pleased with his physical standing.
"You can never get big enough, fast enough or strong enough to stop trying to get better, but I'm at 300-305 right now and I feel stronger and quicker than I was. I'm good - for right now and being a sophomore," said Neely.
Reid feels he's also built some good chemistry with LT Michael Oher.
"We are working well together. We are clicking. We had very few communication breakdowns in spring and they were things that were easily fixed. We help each other a lot," Neely continued.
Reid said everyone on the OL is motivated by that group being labeled a "strength" of the team.
"When we hear we are expected to lead the team, we understand the importance of that. We feel like we are worthy of those types of expectations and that we will rise to the occasion. It's a good thing, to us, to be counted on," he explained. "We like the recognition. We understand the importance of the OL and intend to start things off for the offense. We are where it all starts."
Reid is trying to step up some as a leader, but he understands he has to earn that status.
"I am comfortable saying something if the need is there, but I also understand I am flanked by guys who have been starters and have earned the right to lead," he closed. "If I need to, though, I am comfortable in saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done. I will work hard to earn a leadership role. I want that."
There was talk prior to spring that the OL would be very good. With Reid Neely emerging as "one of the gang," the talk heightened.
The offensive line needed a surprise and got one in #71 - Reid Neely.
Reid Neely update -
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