Center U?

Tennessee's latest center may be among the football program's best ever, which is saying a mouthful.

Josh McNeil started nine games for the Vols in 2006 and was the only unanimous pick on the All-SEC Freshman Team that fall. The 6-4, 280-pounder from Collins, Miss., started all 14 games in 2007, earning SEC Lineman of the Week recognition for his play against Mississippi State. Although he missed the Vols' recent spring practice recovering from minor knee surgery, he this week was named to the preseason watch list for the 2008 Rimingon Trophy, awarded annually to the NCAA's premier center.

Centers don't get the attention accorded tackles – particularly left tackles – but Tennessee's centers have been getting significant attention from National Football League teams the past 25 years.

- Raleigh McKenzie, the Vols' starting center in 1984, wound up playing 15 distinguished seasons in the NFL.

- Bubba Miller, the starter in 1993 and '94, went on to play seven years in the NFL, albeit as a guard.

- Jeff Smith, the starter in '95 and '96, spent six years in "The League," also as a guard.

- Trey Teague, the starting center in '97, wound up drawing an NFL paycheck for nine years.

- Scott Wells, the Vols' starter from 2000-2003, recently completed his third season as the No. 1 center for the NFL's Green Bay Packers.

Whether McNeil is ready to join such select company remains to be seen, of course. Still, the fact he already has 23 career starts and a spot on the Rimington watch list after just two college seasons suggests he has a chance to be special.

Other SEC players on the Rimington watch list include 2007 winner Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas, Antoine Caldwell of Alabama, Brett Helms of LSU and Jason Bosley of Auburn.

The Rimington Trophy is based on All-America teams selected by the American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News and Football Writers Association of America.

The 2008 winner is scheduled to be honored Jan. 17, 2009, at the Rimington Trophy Presentation banquet in Lincoln, Neb.


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