CLEMSON -- Sophomores Justin Parker and Bryce McNeal are perhaps the players most challenged by the presence of the elite 2011 recruiting class.
Parker was billed as an answer to the team's linebacker woes when he signed in 2010, only to see two of the most highly rated linebacker recruits in program history arrive on campus a year later.
The story is similar for McNeal. Signed as a top 100 recruit in 2009 and touted as deep threat, McNeal redshirted as a freshman and caught only 19 passes for 187 yards last season in a year Clemson was desperate for a gamebreaker.
While both players are on the spot, both appear to be rising to meet the challenge this August.
McNeal said the staff didn't "sugarcoat" the situation at the end of spring practice.
"They said (this season) could make or break you; if you fall in the cracks, you fall in the cracks," McNeal said. "I understood that. I understand it's a business and nothing personal. I wasn't doing my job my first two years here."
McNeal had a conversation with his parents this summer, vowing to improve. He said he never discussed "options."
"I decided it was time to put in some major effort," McNeal said. "It's paying off."
McNeal has worked with the second team thus far in August camp like Parker, who has worked at both middle and strong-side linebacker positions.
The 6-2, 225-pound Parker is stronger this summer and said he is playing faster, having a year of experience in Kevin Steele's defense. Like McNeal, Parker needs to be good this camp as he has an incumbent in Corico Hawkins in front of him on the depth chart and a prototype freshman behind him in Tony Steward.
"After the season, I really started realizing I could (make an impact)," Parker said. "I watched film. We played our butt off this summer."
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he prefers to play the same five-man offensive line unit as much as possible during games. This is a departure from the philosophy of last season, when the Clemson staff rotated linemen.
"I'm not all about rotating guys in on the offensive line," Morris said. "Let's get five guys and go with it."
The Morris philosophy means conditioning is critical, as Clemson is expected to run between 15 and 20 more plays per game this season.
Coach Dabo Swinney said first-team left tackle Phillip Price continues to be one of the more impressive players in camp. Swinney was disappointed with the performance of second-team tackle Brandon Thomas in Saturday's scrimmage. The gap between Price and Thomas appears to be growing. … Swinney said freshman QB Cole Stoudt responded with a good practice Monday after a poor showing in the Saturday scrimmage.
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