Clemson wide receiver transfer Bryce McNeal has finally arrived at Louisville and is officially practicing with the team in full pads. His arrival coincidentally came about the same time it was announced sophomore wide receiver Michaelee Harris would miss the season with a torn ACL. As a former top 100 player out of high school and US Army All-American, fans will likely want to believe that he can come in right away and be a star, or at least fill the void left by Harris. While the former should not be expected at all, fans should pump the brakes on the latter as well. Wide Receivers Coach Ron Dugans spoke this week on how McNeal is coming along.
“Just going through drills, you can tell that he has some ability,” said Dugans of McNeal. “He has quick feet and good hands. We have to get him out there more and see what he can do. It takes a awhile to learn the system. Every guy doesn’t learn the same. With some guys you get on the board and show them and other guys you can show them video.”
Someone also asked Dugans if McNeal could replace the loss of Harris.
“We have to see how quickly he can develop. Michaelee did some really good things for us. Byrce needs to get in shape. He needs to get out there and compete.”
With all due respect, whoever asked that question asked a pretty stupid one. The answer should be obvious: no, he cannot replace Harris, and it has little to do with his talent. Harris had an already established rapport with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. McNeal does not. Harris and Bridgewater, including their high school years, have played together for more than four total years. McNeal has been with the team for a week. For whoever asked that question, do you really think that McNeal can come in and just pick up right where Harris left off without even knowing the system? Come on, people…
Second, while the talent is there, McNeal did not exactly set the world on fire during his time at Clemson. He only played one full season, his freshman year of 2010, in which he recorded 20 catches for 195 yards and his best game came came at Boston College where he recorded 4 catches for 43 yards (all stats courtesy of ESPN.com). He only played in one game the following season, recording 1 catch for 8 yards. It is not like he had a terrible QB throwing him passes, as Tajh Boyd is regarded as one of the best signal callers in the nation. Perhaps it was the coaching, maybe it was the offensive scheme, but whatever the reason was, McNeal could not break out of his shell at Clemson. Sometimes, as we have seen in the past, a player just needs a fresh start.
While McNeal did not produce much at Clemson, he was selected as a US Army All-American for a reason. He has talent, and quite a bit of it. Here is how Scout.com described him coming out of high school.
McNeal is an explosive player who can make plays after the catch. He shows good speed and quickness and has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He has good hands and can make tough catches in traffic. He must add some weight and strength to his frame though which will help him improve as a blocker and against press coverage.
Talent like that does not just disappear, it just needs to be properly tapped into, as Brent and I discussed on the show on Monday. He is also an intelligent young man, graduating college in just three years. The tools are there, both mental and physical, and Ron Dugans just needs to figure out a way to release them onto the field.
As far as this season goes, fans need to remain patient as McNeal gets acclimated. This is a very deep WR corps, and he will have some catching up to do. Devante Parker, Andrell Smith, Damian Copeland, Charles Gaines, Eli Rogers, and Scott Radcliff are all still here and are far ahead in the game as far as understanding the offense and establishing chemistry with Bridgewater. It is unrealistic to expect much right away from McNeal, but he could potentially have an Adrian Bushell-like impact. Bushell was a late arrival last season and did not play until the Florida International game, eventually becoming one of the team’s more valuable players. However, the DB corp was pencil thin last season. The WR corps is anything but. For now, he will certainly provide depth, but we may not see him break out until next season.