McNeill not backing into San Diego

For so long, the San Diego Chargers have tried to get by using second day picks on offensive linemen, reaching for some, and trying to find a pot of gold in others. In the second round on Saturday, the Bolts picked up an offensive tackle that had a first round grade entering the year.

Flagged for medical concerns on his back, Marcus McNeill slipped from his initial ranking after the season. McNeill has been diagnosed with stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spine. That forced him to miss many of Auburn's practices during his first two years with the club, though he never missed a game.

"We're very conscious of the guy's physical and medical reports," Buddy Nix admitted. "You can't put that much money in a guy and him not be physically able."

The Chargers, of course, ran through several medical tests on his back and all of the results came back clean. Team doctors ran through a complete physical with McNeill at the NFL Combines and then again in San Diego. Both times, the reports were positive. The Chargers estimate that they have been looking into his back for the last year.

Over the last two years, McNeill did not miss a single practice or game, strengthening the Chargers position in wanting him for their offensive line.

"My back is fine," said McNeil. "I plan on showing everybody that when I get into camp. I'll be down there showing off my back."

"He brings obviously size, pass protection skill, he's a terrific addition," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

The only sack McNeill did give up over his Auburn career was when he slid inside to play guard and he wasn't happy about giving that one up.

He is a left tackle, a blindside protector that is so crucial in the NFL.

A starter as a freshman for Auburn, McNeill sports 36-inch arms that can keep defenders at bay.

With Roman Oben's status up in the air, McNeill could have a chance as early as this year. Schottenheimer confirmed that McNeill would play left tackle and expressed concern over Oben's health.

"Our hope is that Roman will be fine," said Schottenheimer. "There is a bit of uncertainty at this point not as to his availability but to when he will be available. So we're going to be cautious as we go through the coming months."

That means plenty of repetitions for McNeill and plenty of time to get familiar with the rest of the line if he ends up in the starting lineup on a weekly basis.

McNeill doesn't expect anything less than a starting role.

"I know you have a wonderful left tackle already, but it doesn't make any sense for me to just sit back and not want to compete," said McNeill. "I'm coming in to compete for a starting job. I know Roman (Oben) is a great left tackle, and he's going to compete just as well as I am. Hopefully I'll be able to earn a starting position."

And the 6-foot-7 behemoth is eager to learn along the way.

"He's already an established, seasoned left tackle in the league," McNeill said of Oben. "I'm going to be able to learn a lot of things."


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