A Giant Sized Task for a Giant of a Man

By Clint Muhe  |   Thursday, June 15, 2006  |  Comments( 3 )

San Diego Chargers
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After one of the most prestigious careers an Auburn lineman has ever had, left tackle Marcus McNeill was all but a lock for the first round of the 2006 NFL draft. McNeill went 43 straight games at Auburn without allowing a sack, and additionally led the way for two former first-round picks out of Auburn; Ronnie Brown (Miami) and Carnell Williams (Tampa Bay). Entering draft day, most scouts had him projected as the third best overall offensive tackle. Much to McNeill's disappointment he was overlooked during the first round and amazingly slipped all the way to San Diego in the second round with the 50th overall selection.

So why did McNeill fall so far? Tons of talent, a stellar track record, and the size (6'7", 337 lbs.) to have instant success in the NFL: How could you go wrong drafting this kid?

It turns out that McNeill has a condition known as spinal stenosis; the first word being self explanatory, the latter meaning narrowing. Marcus was plagued both physically and in his pocket book by this uncommon condition in which his spine was narrowing. Spinal stenosis usually only occurs with people over the age of 50, but it can be assumed his mammoth size played a part in its early onset. Despite his amazing credentials, no teams prior to the San Diego Chargers were willing to take the risk.

"We are very conscious of a guy's physical and medical reports on him," Buddy Nix, the Chargers' Assistant G.M., said. "Our doctors make the decisions. He was given a complete physical and MRI with our doctors twice."

McNeill responded to the same criticisms, "My back is fine. I plan on showing everybody that when I get into camp. I'll be down there showing off my back."

It might have discouraged most players, but McNeill thought otherwise, "Maybe it's good that I went in the second round because I kind of do have a chip on my shoulder...I have to prove myself again." That kind of positive attitude played a large role in the "risk" the Chargers took on him.

The San Diego Chargers decided to select the downtrodden tackle as a value pick, and probably more valid, a desperate need. Roman Oben, the starting left tackle for the Chargers, is coming back from two off season surgeries on his left foot and his future is still very much in doubt. McNeill and the rest of the team are hoping that the veteran will be ready to play come the start of the season. His ability and experience will be invaluable to the young rookie, regardless of who starts this season. Due to the seriousness of Oben's injuries, McNeill may not be afforded the same luxury that Philip Rivers had in apprenticing behind Drew Brees.

The venue: The Black Hole. The time: Monday night. Trial by fire may be defined as the situation presented to the rookie tackle. His first mission: protect the blind side of Philip Rivers, who will also be having his first NFL start.

Expectations run high after a disappointing '05 season and McNeill will most likely play a big role in the Philip Rivers' era. The Chargers' upcoming season is already one of many uncertainties. If they plan on stepping up in the AFC West, at least they'll have some enormous shoulders to stand on.

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