Interview: Eric McNeal

With Jarrad Page hurt, the young safety, <B>Eric McNeal</b>, has been running with the starters this spring. He tells us about the experience, what he learned playing last season, and the new attitude on the team...

We spoke with sophomore strong safety Eric McNeal after practice Tuesday.

How does it feel this summer to be running with the starters?

"It's not the same, because I know Jarrad Page isn't here. I'm happy that I'm getting reps with the ones but I know I can't say that I'm the #1 safety right now because of Jarrad. I'm just trying to show the coaches what I can do, and hopefully that will be enough for me to get on the field this season."

How much do you think it's helping you to work with the ones?

"It's helping me a lot, to go with the ones. The number two group, they know what they're doing, but to be out there with the ones, that's a whole other level. The speed is a little bit different. The checks and everything, everyone knows what they're doing. It's a lot different."

Do you learn a lot out of the experience or influence from other players?

"Both. Ben Emanuel helps me out on the checks. We help each other out. And like I said, being in there with the ones does it. In the other drills, too, going first, it helps, the experience, too."

Physically you look bigger...

"I gained about 15 pounds from last year. From the beginning of last season. I weigh now, today I weighed in at 220. I want to be about 215. That's coming off of Easter weekend. I ate a lot this last weekend. By the end of this week, I'll be about 215. I can get about three or four pounds from Easter. I had a lot of ham. I was about 224 when I came in Monday."

How much does the weight and strength make a difference?

"It's a big difference. Like with Maurice (Drew), you have to get ready, because he'll run you over. When you go against the fullback, separating, all that stuff. It makes a difference in all of it, to be a little heavier and get that strength."

What are the things you have to work on?

"Probably just staying low and coming out of my breaks. Other than that, there isn't much. When I'm in the box, I think I do pretty well. I do pretty well in the back, but I just have to work on staying low. That's what coach said. I'm not that bad against the pass, just have to improve by staying low. I think I probably am a better run supporter than pass supporter."

Is the defense coming really easy to you?

"Yeah. Last year I was thinking so much. But now I know my stuff and I'm playing."

How much more does game experience matter compared to practice? Like the Fresno State game...

"It's huge. Even just being on special teams. Being on special teams, you have to keep your head on a swivel all the time. So I think it really helps you. On the punt team, being physical, you get so much out of it, understanding the speed and how hard the game is played. Even if you didn't play defense, just playing special teams helps you, gives you a feel for what it's like. The Fresno State game was really my first big game where I got to play a lot, and I think I really benefitted from it. I feel so much more confident now this spring because of that game."

What's the attitude of the team this spring compared to last spring?

"There's a much better attitude. I think the team as a whole got stronger in the weight room. We had some pretty great times at pro timing day. Nobody is accepting the year we had. We have to set a new tempo. That's what Coach Dorrell is emphasizing. So, everyone is looking ahead, and set new goals for the team."

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