Freshman Becoming Big Man On Campus

Marcus McNeill is becoming a key player for the Auburn football team.

Auburn, Ala.--When a true freshman offensive tackle wins praise from his head coach (Tommy Tuberville), offensive coordinator (Bobby Petrino) and position coach (Hugh Nall) the newcomer must be doing more than a few things well.

That is exactly the case with big Marcus McNeill, a 6-9, 345-pounder who is making a strong push for a starting job now that he has moved back outside to tight tackle where he was lined up at the start of his first college season last month during two-a-days. McNeill was later moved inside to bolster the guard position prior to the start of the season, but with Monreko Crittenden moving back to guard from tackle the decision was made to move the big, athletic freshman back outside to tackle.

Marcus McNeill

Tuberville says that McNeill, a former prep All-American who was highly recruited as a senior at Cedar Grove High in Ellenwood, Ga., may be in the starting lineup on Thursday night on national TV as the Tigers take on Mississippi State in Starkville.

Petrino says that McNeill has a bright future and should continue to improve with physical maturity and knowledge of how to play the game.

Nall says he likes the effort he is getting from the true freshman, who is better at this stage of his development on his run blocking than as a pass protector.

"Coach Nall said I did real good on my effort, but I need to work on my technique a lot," McNeill says. "That is what makes a championship team--the technique, the little things."

McNeill graded 96 in Nall's scoring system after pushing physically overmatched Vanderbilt defensive linemen around the Jordan-Hare Stadium turf on Saturday in relief of starter Taylor Bourgeois, who had a problem shoulder slip out of joint. "I know they (Mississippi State) are going to be better athletes, but I haven't really seen them play," McNeill says. "I am just going to go out there and do what I do and block. I can't pay too much attention to what Mississippi State does. If I do that, I start messing up."

McNeill did not see any action in the opener at Southern California, partly because he is a true freshman, but mostly because he was having back spasms that limited his practice time. The airplane flight across the country compounded his back problems and he says that he is probably fortunate he did not have to play on opening night.

McNeill says that Auburn's team trainers and doctors have his back in good shape now and he is ready to rumble. The next opportunity is just around the corner with the ESPN contest on Thursday night in Starkville for the freshman's first SEC road game.

"I heard they are a real aggressive team," McNeill says. "Coach Tub talked about them after (Sunday's) practice and he said we can't go out there and play their game, we have to play our game. We have to do our best not to turn the ball over and keep it in our hands and that will really help us to a victory."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Nall says he is not sure if McNeill or Bourgeois will start at tight tackle vs. Mississippi State. "Based on the way Marcus played, I would be comfortable with him in there or Bourgeois in there. Bourgeois played well, too."...The other true freshman offensive lineman who has earned playing time, guard Troy Reddick, also saw action against Vandy. "He was in for 11 plays in the game and played well," Nall says...McNeill says his summer workouts on campus have been a big help in his early success as a college player. "I really give thanks to Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) and everybody for getting me in shape, having me lifting and bringing up my speed. I thank the staff in the training room for getting my back straight."

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