April 17, 2013

Neal embracing chance to do more

Following Tennessee's Wednesday workout, head coach Butch Jones praised several players for what they have accomplished this spring.

One of those was senior Rajion Neal. Jones said Neal has grown as both an inside runner and in his pass protection.

Neal agrees he has improved and has tried to use the absence of fellow running back Marlin Lane to try and remove a stigma that has long bothered him.

"I go in a little more. I take a few more carries," Neal said of not having Lane. "Once again, can Neal be durable? Can he go 4 or 5 plays without tapping out? Can he do everything and still be mentally tough enough to know all of his assignments? I kind of like that opportunity to show guys that I can go in and do what I have to do when I'm a little winded.

"I'm tired of my coaches calling me soft. Whenever I'm in there, I'm trying to throw my body around. I'm cutting. I'm trying to run more physical, block harder. Just be a student of the game and soak it all up being it's my last go-around."

Neal said he gets some friendly needling from his coaches.

"It's something they like to pick on me with a little bit so when my name is called, I try to go out there and lay it on the line," said the senior tailback.

For Neal, it's been a spring of growth not only in trying to improve as a running back but also a spring of growth in trying to again get to know a new position coach --- his third in three years. The Georgia native admits the adjustment to Robert Gillespie, who was hired to fill the role vacated by Jay Graham a week before spring practice started, was challenging at first.

"It's gotten way better. He makes it mandatory that we come see him outside of football so we can understand his personality and know where he is coming from when he yells, hollers, screams and makes some of the comments he makes," Neal said. "Because one thing he said is that 'You will always hate me and never understand me if you don't get to know me.' So in the beginning we were like, 'man this is some bull'. But after we go and talk to him and sit down with him we realize it's all motivation. It's all in that he is caring and that he really wants to see the best out of the whole room."

With two practices left including Saturday's Orange & White game, Neal likes how his game has developed this spring and he feels like he has answered Jones' call in being someone that the program can count on.

"I just answered adversity," he explained. "One thing that our coach does is he puts you in very live situations as far as one-on-one with a backer. Maybe one-on-one with a backer running the ball at the 1-yard line. Maybe I'm on an island in pass protection. He puts you in those situations to show the team, can we depend on this guy. Can he carry us when we need him? Can guys learn to trust him? I think what I have done a pretty good job at is stepping up and owning those situations. That's really all a player wants, to earn the trust and respect of their teammates. There's nothing like what you go through with these guys. Once my time is over, I'm going to sit back and miss the locker room of the Tennessee football team. The guys I built relationships with."

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Count Ja'Wuan James as impressed. James has spent the last couple of weeks playing left tackle. The move from the right side to the left side was pretty easy. For guard Zach Fulton, the transition from the right interior to the right tackle position was much more challenging.

"It's fun. It's different though," Fulton said. "It's a lot more finesse than power, though. It's down and dirty at the guard spot, but I like it.

"One think it has helped me with is dealing with the faster guys as well as getting comfortable in an up stance that's really the main difference."

James said he was surprised at his teammates success at right tackle.

"Zach did a good job at tackle holding his own," James said. "I thought he would get beat a lot off the edge. Coach said he was a natural. I thought he was going to get beat every time, but he did alright."

Added Fulton, "That's because he under estimated me man. He's always talking about tackle is the hardest job, but inside I gotta deal with the big ugly guys."


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