Auburn T Marcus McNeill helped Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown rack up big numbers in college
(The 2006 NFL Draft is scheduled to take place on the weekend of April 29-30, during which nearly 300 college standouts will enter into the professional ranks. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will run a series of features on these NFL hopefuls, taking a closer look at some of the names you'll be hearing on draft weekend. There is no correlation between the players chosen for these features and the Buccaneers' draft plans, and any mentions of draft status or scouting reports are from outside sources. Our current feature: Auburn tackle Marcus McNeill.)
Marcus McNeill doesn't know where his NFL career will begin, only that he is considered one of the best offensive tackle prospects in the 2006 draft. He does know, however, the first thing he's planning to do if he ends up in Miami or Tampa.
Until a year ago, McNeill's primary responsibility was opening holes for Auburn running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams. He did it so well that both Brown and Williams went in the first five picks of last year's draft. (One could argue that the backs' natural talents had something to do with that, too, as evidenced by their continued success on the NFL level in 2005.)
At Auburn, where the rushing of Brown and Williams was perhaps the key factor in the Tigers' undefeated season in 2004, their success was shared, linemen and backs. When Caddy and Ronnie continued to excel for the Buccaneers and Dolphins, respectively, McNeill naturally thought the sharing would continue.
"I like them both, they both brought a lot to the table so I think they both owe me a lot of money," joked McNeill during last week's NFL Scouting Combine. "I haven't received my check this year so I don't know what to say about that."
McNeill thinks Williams, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005, should be lobbying for a reunion in Tampa.
"He needs to be doing something," said the massive (6-7.5, 336) tackle. "He needs to be doing that or putting some money in my pocket. He hasn't sent me anything. I had to struggle this year just like I did when he was broke with me."
That's not going to be a problem for McNeill for long. Most draft projections have him going among the first 20 picks this April. While Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson appears to be the consensus choice as the best offensive tackle available, McNeill is in the running to go next at his position.
Not only is McNeill huge, he's nimble and fast for his size, running a 5.07-second 40-yard-dash at the Combine. His long arms make it tough for edge rushers to get around him, and he's big enough to simply engulf some defenders. He played left tackle in front of Williams and Brown but believes he can easily handle either side.
"I can go to the left or right side," said McNeill. "I played left and right side, we flip-flopped when I was younger so I have a little bit of experience at both and none of them really gave me any problems and I didn't give up any sacks or tackles at all. I am always up for the challenges and I never back down from stuff like that. If they put me on the left side, I think they can throw me into the fire pretty early and I will adapt pretty well.
McNeill did miss three games in 2003 due to a back strain, and he has a spinal condition called stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column) that hasn't affected his play but will surely be checked out by any interested teams. He points out that he has had no trouble with his back since the '03 injury.
"Everybody asks me about my back but when they find out I played two and a half years and haven't had any problems out of it, they really look away from it and worry about other things," he said.
Scouts say McNeill has shown impressive maturity over the last two years, too. The downside of having such overwhelming size and innate athletic ability is that it is tempting to coast on those natural gifts, particularly against college-level competition. Thus, it's good to hear McNeill's assessment of what will be the key to his success in the NFL.
"Technique and fundamentals," he said. "Because when I go against a defensive end, nine of out 10 defensive ends are going to be more athletic than me. So I can't always depend on my athletic ability. I'm really going to have to work my fundamentals and technique, because that's the way you beat athletic ability."
McNeill's humorous riffs at the Combine on his former teammates' financial obligations were very much in character. He is well known at Auburn for his "observational humor," which rarely spared anyone. He doesn't work blue, but he likes to keep things light. He thinks that may have served him well at the Combine, too, when it came time for evening meetings with the various NFL teams in attendance.
His goal in each interview, he said, was to let the team officials see that he was a good guy wanting to have a good time.
"Don't be walking around with a frown on your face, acting like you don't like it," said McNeill of the sometimes tedious nature of the combine. "I knew this was coming for a long time. Carnell told me about it, Ronnie told me about it, everybody's told me what it's going to be like. So I don't real feel like it's a meat-market type thing. I feel like it's a job interview and you can't go on a job interview with a sad face on. You want to get in there and show them your personality."
McNeill wasn't leery of the physical tests at the combine, either. He figured teams already had a good scouting report on him and he could only improve his stock by running, jumping and shuttling through cones. Unfortunately, the Combine workouts don't include the football activities at which McNeill particularly excels.
"Whenever I can get back to pancaking people, I'm ready to get back to that," he said. "I can leave all these 40-times and all that to the wide receivers."
And get on to the business of playing in the NFL. And maybe collecting on a past-due notice or two.