Tennessee's LaDarrell McNeil showing a lot of bite at safety

Freshman likely to start vs. Miss. State

Tennessee defensive back LaDarrell McNeil pressures Georgia State punter Matt Hubbard at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee defensive back LaDarrell McNeil pressures Georgia State punter Matt Hubbard at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Knoxville, TN - defensive back LaDarrell McNeil #33 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Knoxville, TN - defensive back LaDarrell McNeil #33 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Josh Conklin came up with a canine analogy to describe LaDarrell McNeil, his fearless freshman safety.

"If a dog doesn't bite when he's a puppy, he usually doesn't bite when he's older," said Conklin, Tennessee's first-year safeties coach. "LaDarrell bites."

For now, McNeil is yapping and nipping at the heels of the bigger, older dogs on Tennessee's roster. When next week rolls around, McNeil likely is to be a first-team safety on the Vols' depth chart.

Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) plays at No. 20 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0) on Oct. 13 (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.)

McNeil is the only true freshmen in the two-deep on Tennessee's defensive chart. In seven days, he could be the lone starter.

Much of the freshman class has been vexed by injuries, and most of the major contributors have come in the secondary. McNeil and cornerbacks Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray (currently out with concussion symptoms) have seen the most action, as coaches hope their raw speed and athleticism make up for inexperience.

McNeil played aggressively against Georgia, never shying away from full-speed collisions with running back Todd Gurley, the league's leading rusher.

"(McNeil) went out there and played well," said defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. "I'm really pleased with the kid. He's a kid who flies around and makes plays. He's going to make some mistakes, and we understand that. But he's also a guy who makes plays."

What of the rest of the freshmen class?

Three freshmen are making meaningful contributions on offense: running back Quenshaun Watson, fullback/Wildcat quarterback Justin King and receiver Alton "Pig" Howard, who also has been a quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

Kicker George Bullock, tight end Justin Meredith and linebackers Kenny Bynum and LaTroy Lewis are out with injuries. Running back Davante Bourque left the team in August.

Receiver Drae Bowles, quarterback Nathan Peterman, running back Alden Hill, defensive back Tino Thomas and defensive lineman Danny O'Brien have yet to take a snap and likely will redshirt barring an unexpected change.

Receivers Cody Blanc and Jason Croom, and defensive linemen Omari Phillips and Trent Taylor have played only sparingly.

For the three defensive backs, the path to more playing time started on special teams. McNeil played a bit in the secondary against Akron and then got even more snaps last week against Georgia.

"It was valuable because you see a renewed confidence in him," Conklin said. "He kind of questioned himself for the first three or four weeks because he wasn't getting the reps he thought maybe he should be or didn't feel comfortable taking the reps he was getting."

Now McNeil feels like he belongs.

"It's fun to coach," Conklin said. "I think he brings some energy back there. We've got a young guy here that's not afraid to stick it up in there and get after it."

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 28

pcorange writes:

McNeil has to be an improvement...

Olcrow writes:

please don't bite on pump fakes,seriously upside is great can't make any more mistakes than some slow running upperclassmen

mark36091 writes:

I love the positive outlook of our "fans"!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

This kid is a special athlete and with his speed (something Brewer lacks) he could really make an impact..GBO!!

sameolvolalum writes:

Dear Vol fans (and not you trolls, obviously). Please click "Suggest removal" on the above JBvols1698, along with any and all troll trash destined to follow.

Dear KNS. Shame on you for allowing what was once a useful site for UT fans to become a playground for social misfits. Haven't you figured out that there's a very good reason many of us suspect you're complicit in at least a portion of this trash?

Dear Coach Dooley. Nobody's perfect, but I'm not the only UT Vol football fan who has confidence that you very well may turn this program around. I'm with you, Coach. VFL!

orange_eVOLution writes:

Love the progress of McNeil. I remember many said he was one of the best of the singing class. Deion Bonner is bringing it, too. I still think he got a few bad back-to-back calls (neither one was pass interference) in the Georgia State game.

Practice hard and bring it next week in Starkville, VOLS!

orange_eVOLution writes:

Okay, what the heck happened to George Bullock? How does a kicker break his leg? Thanks... I'll hang up and listen.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

"McNeil is the only true freshmen in the two-deep on Tennessee's defensive chart. In seven days, he could be the lone starter."

Those two sentences are so refreshing. Think about it for a moment. Compare that to the last two seasons. That is what is known in the football world as "rebuilding."

Snapshot writes:

in response to JBVols1698:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why don't you transfer to a site where you could make an intelligent comment?

wazzya69vol writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

Dear Vol fans (and not you trolls, obviously). Please click "Suggest removal" on the above JBvols1698, along with any and all troll trash destined to follow.

Dear KNS. Shame on you for allowing what was once a useful site for UT fans to become a playground for social misfits. Haven't you figured out that there's a very good reason many of us suspect you're complicit in at least a portion of this trash?

Dear Coach Dooley. Nobody's perfect, but I'm not the only UT Vol football fan who has confidence that you very well may turn this program around. I'm with you, Coach. VFL!

Great post, VFL, Wazzy

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to orange_eVOLution:

Love the progress of McNeil. I remember many said he was one of the best of the singing class. Deion Bonner is bringing it, too. I still think he got a few bad back-to-back calls (neither one was pass interference) in the Georgia State game.

Practice hard and bring it next week in Starkville, VOLS!

McNeil will be great and may make All SEC freshman.

On Bonner the first call was very questionable and I don't think was Pass interference, the second one was totally bogus. I think these two calls hurt his confidence but he will recover.

Go Vols

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

I keep telling people to look close at the Sophs and Freshmen plus the JUCO players that CDD brought in his first 2 recruiting classes and you'll see lots of good players that will become NFL players after they graduate from Tennessee.

We ARE getting better but it's just going to take another recruiting class or 2 so that CDD will have 4 of HIS recruitibg classes on campus.

Smart people ARE seeing progress and you can NOT get the Wins in the SEC without the better, future NFL players on the 2 deep roster.

The FACT that we're still having to play so many Sophs and freshmen is PROOF that we still don't have enough really good players and the solid 2 deep depth we need...YET!

McNeil is just 1 of many that will make bigger impacts next season.

VFL...GBO!!!

laraccoon writes:

to me the most encouraging part of this article is the list of frshmen who will redshirt , something Dooley has not had the benefit of doing much of up to this point .Dont get me wrong i hope UT finishes strong this season but i really think next year should be the year when things start to click , especially on the defensive side of the ball.

6972 writes:

Rome wasn't built in a day. Our microwave culture thinks that things should happen instantly. Instant sucess may happen at the lottery but how often does that even happen?
This VFL bleeds orange. Sorry blood bank, I can't help you.

richvol writes:

I read on TOS that Omari Phillips is ready to quit and transfer out...anyone know why.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to richvol:

I read on TOS that Omari Phillips is ready to quit and transfer out...anyone know why.

Not a peep, I hope that's not smoke and simply rumor.

voloffaith writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Not a peep, I hope that's not smoke and simply rumor.

Remember he was a late addition that came in out of shape. So he is playing catchup.....can he cut the mustard is the question at hand....cheek in tongue...decipher....

on topic, speed that might actually run down a back on a breakaway would be nice....however don't get caught in a run down situation to start with as at jawja

mocsandvolsfan writes:

8-4 maybe. 9-3 still possible. Well actually 10-2 still possible.lol maybe not 10-2.

I don't know but I agree that next season is looking good. Bray will be smart to stay around if he wants immediate playing time in NFL. But if the paycheck is really good??? I know I'd take it.

VFL GBO

PUL4VOLS writes:

Hey the young guys have to step up. And for all the multi-starts these Vols have, they are still young in many ways. So the insta-successors will insist they are going nowhere. I have to adamantly disagree. Last weekend, they could have folded up and quit. They did not. Seeing McNeil and some of the the other guys get significant snaps will only help in days ahead. The Miss. State game is a great opportunity for the team to show they have made progress. A win is needed.

frblalack writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

Dear Vol fans (and not you trolls, obviously). Please click "Suggest removal" on the above JBvols1698, along with any and all troll trash destined to follow.

Dear KNS. Shame on you for allowing what was once a useful site for UT fans to become a playground for social misfits. Haven't you figured out that there's a very good reason many of us suspect you're complicit in at least a portion of this trash?

Dear Coach Dooley. Nobody's perfect, but I'm not the only UT Vol football fan who has confidence that you very well may turn this program around. I'm with you, Coach. VFL!

Thank you Sameolvolalum,

Hopefully from now on KNS will make an effort to keep the trolls off our website!

All Vols - Vol for Life - Go Big Orange

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Remember he was a late addition that came in out of shape. So he is playing catchup.....can he cut the mustard is the question at hand....cheek in tongue...decipher....

on topic, speed that might actually run down a back on a breakaway would be nice....however don't get caught in a run down situation to start with as at jawja

Yeah, may be he was under the impression that he could play immediately. I remember when I played college ball, I was kickin' butt until the Juniors and Seniors reported to camp.

sameolvolalum writes:

Dark side: It takes a while to properly instill the 3-4.
Bright side: The sun still rises in the am, and it's still orange. It'll get there. Besides, the 3-4 allows for the flexibility required with dynamic and fast SEC offenses. It's just complicated and the reflexive instincts necessary to make it effective require time and top-tier coaching.

Dark side: Bray has displayed brilliance popping in and out of the shadows of uncertainty.
Bright side: Kids grow up and learning curves advance with guidance. He'll be just fine.

Dark side: Receivers have been dropping balls.
Bright side: C'mon! UT's got two of the best receivers in the nation, and Coach Chaney's got the tools and the expertise to make this package phenomenal.....ask Drew Brees.

Dark side: Game-time adjustments seem to be lagging when compared to our opponents coaches.
Bright side: This youngish team is maturing. If you've noticed, adjustments were made and improvements were noticable (run defense) after those horrendous long runs against UGA. The execution by the players has to match the x's and o's laid out by the coaches. It's improving.

Dark side: Kicking game.
Bright side: No idea.

Dark side: No UT fans; this won't be a championship season of any sort.
Bright side: Come (hopefully) the rest of the season and more-so next year, the patiently rebuilt UT football team will be exciting and highly competitive in the SEC and nationwide.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

In typical Woodbery writing fashion he doesn't bother to say who he will be replacing or how many tackles McNeil has?? I don't recall seeing him against GA but he did have 5 tackles..McNeil was known as a big hitter in HS but that usually means he was hitting chest high and not necessarily wrapping up;which doesn't work in the SEC..I would say Conklin coached him up but watching our other safeties tackling techniques that can't be true!!On all those big runs teams like GA broke on us; the safety is the last line of defense..Most of the times before the snap it was an obvious run yet we only had one or none Safeties in position to make the stop and the backs ran through them like paper dolls..A safety must be a good open field tackler and ours are NOT!! If McNeil can tackle play him!!!The whole thing doesn't speak much about all these JR and SR's who have tons of playing time but still can't get the job done

rkw2 writes:

in response to Snapshot:

Why don't you transfer to a site where you could make an intelligent comment?

He has to come up with an intelligent comment first. Don't hold your breath on that one...

JCJ1986 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

In typical Woodbery writing fashion he doesn't bother to say who he will be replacing or how many tackles McNeil has?? I don't recall seeing him against GA but he did have 5 tackles..McNeil was known as a big hitter in HS but that usually means he was hitting chest high and not necessarily wrapping up;which doesn't work in the SEC..I would say Conklin coached him up but watching our other safeties tackling techniques that can't be true!!On all those big runs teams like GA broke on us; the safety is the last line of defense..Most of the times before the snap it was an obvious run yet we only had one or none Safeties in position to make the stop and the backs ran through them like paper dolls..A safety must be a good open field tackler and ours are NOT!! If McNeil can tackle play him!!!The whole thing doesn't speak much about all these JR and SR's who have tons of playing time but still can't get the job done

Have you not been watching? Randolph and Moore were our starting safeties. Randolph gets hurt, in comes Brewer. Brewer gets burned on a couple of long runs, and in comes McNeil. McNeil showed some physicality in the game against Georgia, he wasn't afraid to get in Gurley's face. He plain missed on one tackle that I remember. Moore whiffed on several, most notably the TD on the goal line, BUT he leads the team in INT's. Moore needs to work on tackling technique, but he's all ball hawk.

John_10065 writes:

in response to frblalack:

Thank you Sameolvolalum,

Hopefully from now on KNS will make an effort to keep the trolls off our website!

All Vols - Vol for Life - Go Big Orange

Are you kidding? They have troll posts as "featured content" all the time!

VolGrad writes:

Just happy he doesn't have an apostrophe in his first name.

Go Vols! Beat the dawgs!!!

UTVolWarrior98 writes:

Why isnt Drae Bowles a contributor yet? This was a 4-star stud recruit with hyped expectations?!! Same with Jason Croom. I've seen too many highly regarded recruits become non-existent. Is it bc they dont have the ambition to succeed, or is it that the coaches do not know how to coach the talent? I mean look at Ben Martin for example. He was a 5-star stud recruit that chose UT over Ohio State. What did he ever accomplish? He was never a factor for us. This trend has to stop!

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