The defensive lineman and more than 100 teammates hit the practice field on Thursday morning for the first of two practices scheduled for the opening day of preseason drills for the entire team that was preceded by four days of freshmen-only workouts.
"My knee feels really good," says McNeil, who missed spring drills after having offseason knee surgery following a disappointing sophomore campaign in which he played in pain with limited mobility. "As far as I can tell, my knee is 100 percent." He was running first team at noseguard on Thursday as his position coach, Don Dunn, put the defensive linemen through a series of drills.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville says he likes what he saw from McNeil and others and notes that there are obviously more good athletes on the field than he has had in his three previous seasons at Auburn.
Brandon Johnson lines up at fullback on the first day of full squad preseason workouts.
The Tigers changed their practice plans, which is not uncommon during preseason. Instead of having a 7 a.m. workout at the intramural fields, they hit the football complex fields just before 9 a.m. for an hour and a half practice in shorts and helmets, but with no shoulder pads. Members of the punt teams stayed for another 45 minutes of instruction. "We plan to spend a lot of time on the kicking game in preseason," says Tuberville of an area that received very little attention in spring drills. "It is too important not to be serious about it."
Before going out on the practice field, each group of players met for instructions from their position coaches. New offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino was pushing his pupils to play error-free football and let players who lined up improperly and made other mistakes know that won't be tolerated, even on the first day of preseason practice. Petrino, who coaches the quarterbacks, was intently watching every move made by Jason Campbell and Daniel Cobb, the two players in a battle for No. 1. Tuberville says the decision on who the starter will be could be made as soon as this time next week, but did not put an exact time frame on it.
Campbell says he doesn't know when the starting quarterback will be selected and says he really isn't sure if he is ahead or behind Cobb after one practice. "I do know that I am throwing the ball better than I ever have and I feel good about the way I am playing," the redshirt sophomore says.
Ben Obomanu prepares to line up at wide receiver. The freshman is expected to challenge for early playing time.
Tuberville says the coaching staff's plan is to use the morning practices as teaching sessions while the afternoon practices will be more physical. "Of course, we have to hit and get ready for Southern Cal, but it is important that we be smart and not overdo it," he says. "We don't want to get key players injured and not even make it to the first game. We don't want to have starters on the sidelines missing practice due to heat exhaustion, either, so we are going to be monitoring that very careful. We are going to make sure the players get plenty of rest between the practices and that they eat properly. We are having them eat three meals a day at Sewell Hall and I think that will really help."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Auburn coaches are flirting with the idea of using Carnell "Cadillac" Williams as a return man, something he did well in high school. He did not work out with the punt returners on Thursday. Tuberville says that staff members are trying to convince him to use Williams as either a punt or kickoff returner, but the head coach says he isn't ready to OK that idea because the sophomore tailback is so important to the offense. "Carnell sure looks good out there," Tuberville says. "You can see a big difference in him physically from this time last year."...Freshman Michael Gibson from Mooreville, Miss., High showed a very strong leg in punting drills on Thursday. Joe Walkins, who lost his starting punt return job to Roderick Hood last season, was fielding punts with no problems on the first day of preseason.
(We will have photos from the practice later today.)