CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney braved ice and snow to recruit Bryce McNeal in Minnesota in early 2009, the Clemson coach kidding McNeal at the time that he better be worth the expedition.
Three springs later, the Tigers are still waiting for McNeal to become the elite deep threat he was billed as when rated as a consensus top 100 prospect in 2009. And time might be running out for the redshirt sophomore to make an impact as the receiver position is becoming crowded with DeAndre Hopkins emerging last season, the coaches vowing to find a home for the speedy Joe Craig this spring and the impending arrival of five-star talents Sammy Watkins and Charone Peake this summer.
Is this a make-or-break spring and summer for McNeal?
"I don't think it's make or break for me at all," McNeal said. "I really don't think like that at all. No 14 practices are going to make or break my career. They might tell you that…but I'm just trying to get better each day."
McNeal was unable to emerge last season when Clemson desperately needed a downfield playmaker, catching 19 passes for 187 yards.
This spring, McNeal will have the benefit of 15 spring practices to digest a new offense before the arrival of Watkins (who will wear his old No. 7) and Peake.
McNeal, who has switched his jersey number to 11, has become stronger and added weight since arriving on campus as thin as a coat hanger, but new Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris wants to see more of a physical presence from his receivers, including McNeal.
"Like everyone else, sometimes they are hot sometimes they are cold," Morris said of McNeal. "He has a lot of speed. … I'm pleased in some regards … we have to keep pushing each other.
"Nobody is ready to go right now."
Looking for a lefty
The Tigers have a significant void at left tackle, needing to replace a three-year starter in Chris Hairston.
Former walk-on tight end Phillip Price is listed as the first-team left tackle, but guard David Smith has also worked at left and right tackle this spring.
"I love working at tackle," Smith said. "We are just keeping everyone fresh; you never know what is going to happen to linemen in a game."
Redshirt freshman Reid Webster is also getting some work at teh right tackle position after moving from guard, and Smith called him a standout performer this spring.
Defensive end Kourtnei Brown has a strained PCL and will miss the rest of spring practice … In returning to practice following spring break Monday, Clemson had another offensive installation day in Morris' new offense. Morris said 55 percent of his offense has been installed … Running back Andre Ellington participated in cutting drills for the first time Monday since his surgery.