Last fall, as a true freshman, McNeil played in all 13 games as a reserve and finished the season with 22 solo tackles and 13 assists.
This year he is expected to start and he says he feels more confident about how he is performing.
"I think I am playing a lot faster because I am more aware," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I can see the whole field now. Last year, it was more blurry to me. I had the skills and the talents to be a starter, but I didn't have the right knowledge."
Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads reacts to a play in Saturday's scrimmage.
McNeil and his teammates participated in their second major scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The sophomore's opinion is that the defense has work to do.
"We just have to keep improving," says McNeil. "We can't keep making the same mistakes. Whatever the coaches are coaching you on, you have to get in the film room and make those corrections."
In the first scrimmage, a week earlier, the Tigers missed 26 tackles, McNeil notes. "I hope we didn't have that many because if we did we have a lot of running to do tomorrow," he says.
McNeil says he is not expecting a great report card from the coaches at Sunday's practice. "Today I think our tackling was poor," he points out, adding, "We missed a lot of tackles...I didn't really hear a lot of pads."
In other news and notes from Saturday's scrimmage, which marked the halfway point of preseason drills:
*Linebacker Chris Evans, who had a big hit on receiver Chris Slaughter, agrees with McNeil that the defense has work to do. "We had a few plays here and there individual-wise, but we didn't really play that well as a unit." The senior says he would give the defensive performance a letter grade of "D."
*Junior cornerback Jerraud Powers says he wasn't surprised that sophomore defensive end Antoine Carter had a good scrimmage pressuring the quarterbacks. "Hot Boy, he's doing good," Powers says with a smile, using Carter's nickname that is tattooed under the sophomore's eyelids. "He's stepping up, being a leader and he is making a lot of plays. He played good in the scrimmage. He comes to work every day in practice and he is going to have a good year."
*Sophomore Chris Slaughter, who was challenged by offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to step up after Franklin was not impressed with his spring performance, continues to have a solid preseason. Saturday's scrimmage was not an exception. He made several receptions and had a chance for a home run play as he got free behind the defense only to have a pass by Kodi Burns fall short.
*Although he is likely to redshirt because he needs to gain weight and strength, freshman defensive end Cameron Henderson's athletic ability was on display again in the scrimmage. The newcomer from Shades Valley High has a bright future, his teammates predict.
*With high school teams preparing for their openers, it was a light turnout for prospects at the scrimmage. Auburn verbal commitment, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen from Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga., attended the scrimmage along with offensive line prospect Johnnie Farms from Perry, Ga., who spent a good part of the day checking out the AU campus.