Is McNeil UT's Most Valuable Propsect?

Although, no doubt, many would disagree it's not a stretch to make the argument the recent verbal commitment by Josh McNeil to Tennessee is the biggest the Vols will obtain in their Class of 2005.

That's not to say McNeil is the highest ranked, the best or even the prospect that will have the most immediate impact next fall. However, he does fill what is logically the team's greatest need and filling needs is the first priority in recruiting.

Retracing the line of logic we can allow that Tennessee is a team that is built around its offensive line. The head coach is an offensive linemen and he realizes controlling the football with the run is the most direct path to victory. In turn this does two things that are essential to victory:

(1) Success on the ground immensely improves a team's chances of success through the air. Passing when you choose takes away the defense's edge and dramatically reduces high-risk, down-and-distance situations that invariably lead to turnovers and exposes the quarterback to danger.

(2) Success on the ground means controlling the ball, the clock and field position. It forces an opponent's defense to stay on the field and makes it vulnerable going into the fourth quarter when many contests are decided. Conversely, it allows a team to rest its defense and keep it fresh for the stretch drive. That's particularly important to a defense like Tennessee's that is built on speed, instead of power, and designed to attack, instead of defend.

This concept is something Paul Brown understood well. A recognized football genius who implemented major innovations in the professional game he built the Cleveland Browns success around the running of Jim Brown fronted by an outstanding offensive line. How successful was the head coach? The Cleveland Browns were named after him.

Later when Paul Brown was lured out of retirement in 1968 to guide the fortunes of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise, the first player he drafted was former Tennessee All-American center Bob Johnson, who went on to anchor the Bengals O-line for the next decade. By the way, the Bengals reached the NFL playoffs in their third season of existence.

Suffice it to say Tennessee has no greater need than an anchor for its offensive line and Josh McNeil is the very best anchor available to the Vols. That's simply a case of filling your greatest need with the best prospect in the nation.

None of this is to say McNeil will start from day one. There's even a reasonable chance he will be redshirted next year, depending on his progress and the progress of others. But eventually he will break into the starting lineup and bring all of his experience, technique, knowledge and dedication to bear.

Assuming fortune is kind, McNeil will eventually be at the center of some outstanding Tennessee offensive lines.

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