November 6, 2012
McNeil's investment pays off on field
For the season, Dallas, Texas, freshman LaDarrell McNeil has 37 tackles. That's the same number of tackles Brian Randolph had a year ago as a freshman thrown into the lineup.
In 2000 when Rashad Baker was moved from receiver to safety as a freshman he had 31 stops and former Vol Janzen Jackson had 37 tackles a true freshman. For McNeil, starting as a true freshman in the SEC the last four weeks has been eye-opening and challenging.
"At the beginning of the season, I was having a tough time balancing academics and football," McNeil said Tuesday in his first interview session this season with reporters. "Now, some of the guys who have already been through the process are helping me get through the process. They have kind of guided me along the way and I think I'm settling in now.
"It was very overwhelming. I had never played in a system like this, but I'm glad I'm here. It's making me stronger and better.
"The most frustrating thing is when you have everything down. You have the play right and you have everything good then you mess up. Then the coach yells at you and fusses at you, but you have to keep moving on. That's the most frustrating thing to me."
Head coach Derek Dooley admits what those Vols' coaches are asking the former four-star prep standout to do is really difficult.
"One thing is the mental part and it certainly hasn't been easy on him. Then the physical beatdown you go through as a freshman," Dooley said. "The emotion pressure you feel, because there is a lot of pressure on how much we are depending on him to hold up back there. Over the course of time, that can really take a toll on a player. It's hit LaDarrell for a couple of weeks.
"He has a great attitude. He has a big-time future. He's going to be a great football player."
To try and help with the physical beatdown, coaches tried to limit his snaps a week ago against Troy after playing more than 70 snaps at South Carolina. To try and help on the mental side of things, McNeil has spent a lot of time with safeties coach Josh Conklin.
"Me and coach Conk(lin). Since this is my first year we have been having meetings, meetings, and meetings," McNeil said. "I meet with him in the morning. I meet with him in the afternoon and I meet with him at night. Our bond is kind of like a father and son relationship."
Those meetings and the commitment to do the extra things is what Dooley feels sets his freshman apart.
"Very rare for a freshman to be as focused and driven the way he is," Dooley said. "What separates him is that I think he understands that 'Boy, I don't understand this stuff.' A lot of freshmen, they don't really care. They just go play."
As the Tennessee defense continues to try and find itself heading into the tenth game of the season sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said the defense has a much different look than the first game of the season.
"Simplified more, a lot more simple. I don't feel like it's the same defense as of right now," Maggitt said Tuesday after practice.
Maggitt said the continuing simplifying of the defense is being done in an effort to have guys play faster and not think as much.
"Helping guys understand what they're doing. They don't have to do too much thinking in a good play and they can react fast," Maggitt offered.
Maggitt, who spends an ample amount of time in the film room with fellow linebackers Herman Lathers and A.J. Johnson, says he rarely doesn't know where to be but he does have his moments.
"Not too often. Herm, AJ and I and a couple of other linebackers we come in and watch film a lot and make sure we understand the linebacker room," Maggitt said. "I feel like if I have any questions I'm going to ask and there's a few times your out there and you're not really sure but you go out there and play and play fast."
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