McNeil Praised For His Toughness

Auburn coaches talk about the big defensive tackle's knee surgery that limited his production last fall.

Auburn, Ala.--DeMarco McNeil had already earned the respect of his coaches for his full-speed, hard-nosed performances as a Freshman All-SEC defensive tackle. His toughness during the 2001 season has earned him even more.

Although the 6-1, 301-pounder didn't have the kind of 2001 season expected, there was a huge reason for that.

"He had a tear in his knee and three bone chips," says defensive tackles coach Don Dunn. "The doctors say he has the knee of a 60 to 70-year-old man," Dunn says.

DeMarco McNeil at a practice this past season.

"I am proud of him," adds Dunn, who talked to him in the hospital after surgery. "He is a little under the weather. They said it was a pretty bad knee.

Dunn says he is not sure when McNeil will be able to play again. "I don't know if they know," he told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "He is a tough sucker."

Dunn says that big DeMarco wouldn't tell the coaches how much he was hurting. "I would ask him how the knee was and he would say, "It's OK." Obviously, it was and the Tigers are hoping the 2000 Freshman All-American can be back for the 2002 season.

McNeil finished the season with 33 tackles, down from 67 in 2000. He also had just one quarterback sack after having five the previous fall. He was unable to participate in a significant amount of practices in 2002 because of pain in his knee.

Head coach Tommy Tuberville has praise for McNeil's toughness, too. "DeMarco had a tough year. We tried to downplay it, but he couldn't practice. He had torn ligaments, bone spurs in his knee and one of his knees is just terrible. For him to play at all is impressive. I don't think I would have ever hit the field, but he gave a gutty performance. He played hard whenever he could. You have got to take your hat off to a guy like him."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Another sophomore, tight end Robert Johnson had his wrist operated on and there is hope he can return in time for spring training in March...Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Taylor Bourgeois had shoulder surgery last week. He is not expected back until preseason drills in August...Freshman cornerback Carlos Rogers is expected to have surgery on his thumb after spring practice is finished...The deadline for declaring for the NFL draft is Friday at 5 p.m. Tuberville says he is not expecting to lose any Tigers this year after losing Rudi Johnson, Heath Evans and Ronney Daniels to the 2001 draft.

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