Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney hopes to use Neal in multiple ways this season. The sophomore tailback received praise from all angles early in camp and has been on a roller coaster ride of emotions ever since.
"There have been ups and downs, but I have had my teammates, the coaches, my friend and family, they have definitely been keeping me positive and telling me encouraging things," Neal said Tuesday. "I have been staying focused and at the same time learning, rehabbing and trying my best to get back."
Neal, the No. 31 running back in the nation in the 2010 class according to Scout.com was working almost exclusively with the Tennessee wide receiving corps early in the preseason and looked to be an option at the slot receiver position.
The former Sandy Creek High School standout took the two weeks on the sidelines to try and gain knowledge of the Tennessee offense both with the run fits at tailback and the blocking schemes at wide receiver.
"The time I have taken off has just been more time for me to help myself get healthy, study and sit down and pay attention to things I am still a little leery on," the Fayetteville, Ga., product said.
Listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Neal played in 10 games as a freshman, totaling 97 yards rushing on 46 carries (4.3 yards per carry) and 100 yards receiving on seven catches (14.3 yards per reception).
While Derek Dooley may have been happy to see his sophomore back in the orange and white instead of the recent red, no one was more excited to be back on the field than Neal.
"I came back out eager to work," Neal said. "I am not shying away from anything. I am happy to be back out here, I love the game, I am happy to be back out here with these guys and I am ready to roll."
Aside from trying to make an impact on the offensive of the ball, Neal could also work his way back into a role on special teams.
"I feel like I am good — it is just whatever coach Dooley and coach (Eric) Russell decide," said Neal of the possibility of returning kicks. "If they tell me to get back there I am going to get back there. Whatever they ask of me I am going to do."
Neal contributed on kickoff returns as a freshman. His stat line was short with just three returns that covered 53 yards, including a long return of 29 yards against rival Alabama.
When asked of Neal's role entering the season opener against Montana, Dooley stated that much of his role would depend on his recovery throughout the week.
Neal has been cited by Dooley as one of the fastest players on the 2011 roster and with the departure of speedster Janzen Jackson it might be official.