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July 15, 2009

Clemson's McNeal faces weighty issue

CLEMSON, S.C. - In more ways than one, the biggest obstacle to Clemson's Bryce McNeal playing in 2009 is weight.

McNeal is light, and the playbook is heavy.

How he addresses both issues could play a large role in determining whether coaches decide they can't keep this heralded receiver off the field.

"I'm just going to work," said McNeal, the first Clemson signee from the state of Minnesota since 1968. "If coaches want me to play, then I'm going to do whatever they say. If they want me to sit down and redshirt and get bigger, that's what I'm going to do. But I'm just coming out to work hard."

McNeal, who reneged on his oral commitment to Michigan and ultimately decided on the Tigers, is deemed a strong candidate for playing time this season because of his talent, and also because of sizable holes at the receiver position.

Aaron Kelly, the ACC's career leader in receptions (232), is gone. And so is Tyler Grisham, who totaled 132 career catches.

Jacoby Ford returns, and he caught 55 passes last year. The remaining experience at receiver - Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones and Terrance Ashe - totaled 14 catches in 2008.

Jaron Brown, Brandon Ford and Brandon Clear are trying to make a case for playing time, and McNeal is hoping to enter the mix as well.

To do so, he'll need to add some pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame. He was listed at 175 pounds when he signed with the Tigers in February, but he was 169 when he arrived in Clemson two weeks ago. He said he's up to 172.

"So I'm getting bigger already," McNeil said.

Putting on the pounds is difficult when the players are going through sapping summer workouts, then preseason camp.

"I'm trying to get as big as I can," said McNeal, who was rated the No. 75 player in the Rivals100.

When discussing the playbook, McNeal's eyes get wide. He's taking summer-school courses in English and Biology, but it's clear Billy Napier 101 is requiring plenty of study time as well.

The Tigers' offense is expected to do a little bit of everything under Napier, the first-year offensive coordinator, and coach Dabo Swinney. That translates into a lot of cramming for a freshman receiver.

McNeal said he thinks he's mastered the Tigers' avalanche of personnel groupings.

"We really don't have a lot of personnel groupings in Minnesota," he said with a laugh.

Now he's trying to tackle concepts and hand signals so he can process things quickly on the field.

"Everything's a lot faster, so that's what I'm working on," he said.

McNeal spent part of the spring and summer working out with NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald to hone his routes and ball skills. He also followed the running and lifting regimen Clemson sent him.

He says the move from Minnesota isn't as bad as one might think; he has family in Atlanta, and he was already close with several players - mainly quarterback Tajh Boyd and defensive back Jonathan Meeks.

"It's been easy," he said. "It's really not that bad."

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