"Me and my family sat down a long time and we just sat there and weighed our options about going to the NFL," McNeill says about the decision he made back in the spring to return to Auburn for his senior season. "Of course, there is a lot of money there and a good chance of getting a big contract and stuff like that, but at the same time you only have four years of college and I have really enjoyed my stay here at Auburn and I really didn't want to leave my Auburn family."
For the extremely talented tackle a big part of that Auburn family is the other players that make up the offensive line, and he says that is a group of players that is heading into the season on the same page.
"We are definitely gelling," McNeill explains. "We just went over to Coach (offensive line coach Hugh) Nall's house the other day and we just sit around and just chill out. It is like a big family, I mean the whole team is like a family and the offensive line is a group of well-knit humble guys.
"That is what you need," he continues. "You can't have big headed, cocky guys on the team. A lot of people would say I have a reason to be cocky, but you will never see that attitude come out of me because I am not that kind of person. Whenever you show that you are willing to work hard and do what you need to do people respect that and it makes them want to play that much better. So, the offensive line, right now, is a well-knit group. We are a real tight group of friends and I wouldn't trade them for the world."
Along with being excited about the chemistry and potential for the offensive line group to be a good one, McNeill also explains that he is very excited by the overall potential of the Tigers' offense, especially with second-year coordinator Al Borges at the helm.
"Al Borges is just doing a wonderful job out there as our offensive coordinator," McNeill says. "We all saw him work his magic last year and, you know, he does things that people just don't expect. A lot of times we look at him and we will be like, ‘what is going on right here,' but then we do it in the game and we score touchdowns on it and you are like, ‘oh my goodness, this guy knows what he is doing.' So, we really feel confident in what Al Borges is going to do with our offense."
One key area of the Tigers' offensive attack is always the running game, and in 2005 Auburn will have to replace both Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. However, the big tackle notes that he is not worried one bit about the rushers that he and his fellow linemen will be blocking for this year.
"They are younger guys, but they have all the talent and ability in the world," McNeill says about Tre Smith, Kenny Irons, Carl Stewart and Brad Lester. "If they didn't have talent they wouldn't be here at Auburn. Coach Gran and all of the coaches knew that Ronnie Brown and Cadillac wouldn't be here forever and they did a good job of getting their replacements ready. I feel like all of them are ready to step into the limelight this year."
Another key area of replacement for the Tigers will be at the quarterback spot, but again McNeill says he is very comfortable with the ability of Brandon Cox to step up and take over for Jason Campbell.
"We know we have a quarterback that is not as mobile as J-Cam (Jason Campbell), but at the same time we feel like Brandon Cox is a very seasoned quarterback," he notes. "He got chances to play in a lot of games last year and we feel very confident about him, and as long as we build up his confidence he is going to be a great player."
Still, despite his confidence McNeill says that the offensive line will have a big role to play in the 22 year-old sophomore's success. "We are going to have to give Cox extra time, especially early on, because he is going to have to have that extra tenth of a second to make the reads that he is going to need to make."
Marcus McNeill not only looked good on Thursday, but he was also having a great time representing Auburn at SEC Media Days.
With all of that rebuilding to do, especially in the offensive backfield, many of the writers on hand at Media Days were shocked when Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said this would be his most talented team ever from top to bottom. However, McNeill notes that does not see anything surprising about the statement.
"Definitely, Coach Tuberville has a lot of confidence in us," he says. "He believes in his recruiting classes. They do a great job recruiting year in and year out. Teams lose great players to the draft all the time. Miami lost a ridiculous amount of players one year to the first round and I think they came back and almost ran the table again. I mean it is really about reloading. We don't have to rebuild anything, we are just reloading and we have a wonderful caliber of athletes to reload the positions that were left by guys such as Carnell and Ronnie Brown."
Even with the talent level on the rise, McNeill says that he and his fellow seniors were not going to let their younger teammates take things easy over the summer or rest on their laurels. "I think we actually stepped it up a notch from any other year," he says about the voluntary summer workout regime. "We jumped out of the gate a little early this year and we tried to stay ahead of schedule of what we did last year just to keep us going. The summer has been real hard, but I haven't met anybody who has gone through a summer with Coach (strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall) Yox and has had an easy one yet."
Although McNeill says he and his teammates have been working very hard in the offseason, he also explains that much like last season that the workouts have been a lot of fun for the entire group.
"We came into it, we went out there, we played football and we had fun with it, and that is what we have been doing out there this year," he says about the similarity in the last two seasons' summer workout sessions. "I try to stay out there and watch pass-skel and stuff just to sit there and leave a little buzz in CT's (wide receiver Courtney Taylor) ear or (defensive back Jonathan Wilhite) Wilhite's ear if someone gets burnt or a deep ball gets thrown up. It is just fun to be out there and it kind of reminds me of being out there playing football in the yard when I was younger and that is what I play football for, just to have fun."
Along with the attitude among the team feeling much like it did heading into the 2004 season, the expectations for the 2005 Tigers are much the same. In 2004 LSU was picked to win the Western Division title by most publications and the same is true for 2005.
However, McNeill says he does not mind the fact that his team will have to defy the odds again if they are going to defend their SEC title because it is a role he and his teammates have learned how to use to their advantage.
"Definitely we are under the radar this year, but we have always been the type of people that played the underdog role, and we don't mind playing the underdog role because everybody likes the underdog," he explains. "Nobody wants to shoot the underdog. Everybody kind of roots for the underdog, even though you may not like the underdog you are like, ‘Come on, Come on Ol' Yeller.'"
When he was quickly asked following that statement if he knew that Ol' Yeller got shot, McNeill's quick wit turned on immediately. "Yeah, but we are not going to use that in our analogy though," he quipped in return.
Even though McNeill really likes the way the offensive line is gelling, the way his offensive coordinator runs the show, the overall talent level on both offense and defense and the fact that his team, which is on a 15-game winning streak, will again get to play the role of an underdog, he explains that there can really only be one goal for his final run with his Auburn family.
"There is no realistic goal, especially starting out 0-0 because you never know what team is going to do what," he explains. "I don't think we were picked to win anything last year and we did extraordinary. So, I think we have just as much of a chance this year to do great things as we did last year.
"We have great athletes, we have a great foundation, we have great coaches, we have just a great fan base and the atmosphere around Auburn is great so we are looking to do great things this year," he continues. "Now, if we don't go 13-0 we are not going to be disappointed, but I will be disappointed if we went out there and didn't play as hard as we could."