This season, while things have improved with freshmen Tommy Jackson and Wayne Dickens seeing time and playing well at in the middle, injuries to Johnson have made depth once again an issue up front. Preparing to face the top yardage passer in the SEC Saturday in Eli Manning, McNeil remembers all too well how it feels to chase him all over the field. Last season, after jumping out to a 27-0 lead, the Tigers had to hold on because of a furious rally led by Manning. Primarily a passing team, the Rebels will challenge the Tiger defense and McNeil in particular.
"At noseguard I think it's just me and T.J. right now," McNeil said. "We have basically a two-man rotation, but we did pretty well with it last week against LSU. We almost went half-and-half with the plays and both of us were being productive. For us to continue to be productive we have to be sure not to over-exert ourselves and get some proper rest during the game."
DeMarco McNeil works a drill during Wednesday's practice.
That task remains a tough one as Johnson is expected to miss Saturday's game because of continued ankle problems. Defensive end Reggie Torbor is also struggling to get well because of an ankle injury suffered vs. Southern California. While he said Torbor should play, Coach Tommy Tuberville said this will be a challenging week for his front seven because of Manning and Ole Miss' style of play.
"Spencer still didn't practice very much and it doesn't look good for him," Tuberville said. "Reggie Torbor is about half speed. We've got some flu running through the team as well. Hopefully, we can overcome that. I guess all the wet weather the last week, we had four or five guys that didn't practice because of the Upper GI as the trainers call it. It's not bad, we're just worried about their energy. We're just trying to keep their energy up as much as we can."
With Jackson one of the players missing some of Wednesday's practice along with Tre Smith, Travaris Robinson and Daniel Cobb, the need to get healthy is a big one for the Tigers. Focusing on the kickoff teams during the two-hour practice in full pads, the coaching staff worked Smith and redshirt freshman Dee Durham as the first team return men and Tuberville said that the coaches decided to make a change and see if it would spark the unit.
Dee Durham will return kickoffs for the Tigers along with Tre Smith.
"He was good in high school," Tuberville noted of Durham. "We're just looking for somebody to give us a little bit extra back there and a little bit more physical. He's more back there for a blocker than anything else, but he can return them. We're just looking for the right combination. Both of these guys have good speed."
In the normal Wednesday routine, the Tigers spent much of the day working against scout teams focusing on learning the game plan for Saturday's contest against Ole Miss. Tuberville said he liked what he saw out of his team on a cool and brisk fall evening on the Plains.
"We had a good day of practice," Tuberville said. "It was a beautiful day and fall night. We're starting to get a little cool weather. You can tell the tempo is a lot better with the cool practice. We had a good day in the kicking game. This was a day in which we worked on short yardage on both sides of the ball."
Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen regionally on JP.
Tiger Ticket Extra: The Tigers did get some expected bad news as Taylor Bourgeois, a redshirt freshman offensive tackle, underwent surgery on his left shoulder and will miss the remainder of the season plus spring practice while he recovers. A starter for much of the season, he has been hampered by a shoulder that pops out of joint. That puts true freshman Marcus McNeill firmly in the playing rotation with redshirt freshman Steven Ross as the top backup. Monreko Crittenden is likely to continue his role of playing both tackle and guard. Tuberville said that Bourgeois is a very athletic lineman who has played well all season when he has been on the field. "He is going to be missed," the coach says.