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Surgery Makes McNeil's Future Uncertain
Josh McNeil

Josh McNeil

Aug. 25, 2009

BY DREW EDWARDS
UTSports.com

Tennessee center Josh McNeil's future with the Vols is up in the air after UT coach Lane Kiffin announced the senior will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday.

McNeil, who has been dealing with significant knee issues for the eight or nine days and missed practice the last two days, will be out at least three weeks, Kiffin said.

McNeil, a fifth-year senior who redshirted in 2005 because of shoulder surgery, could file for a sixth year of eligibility with the NCAA if he misses the entire season.

Regardless, McNeil's team-best streak of 35 consecutive starts will come to an end when Tennessee faces Western Kentucky for the season opener Sept. 5.

In his place at center will be Cody Sullins, who was seriously pushing for the starting job even before McNeil's injury.

"I really respect Cody," guard Vladimir Richard said after Tuesday's practice. "He's been out here battling from day one, since we've been here.

"He came out here working just as hard as Josh has been working. He's got the offense down. He's getting the calls right. I'm very comfortable with having Cody as my center if Josh is not able to return. Or even whichever way it (position battle) goes, or whoever is the center because both of those guys work hard and get the job done."

Richard praised McNeil's toughness, saying the fifth-year senior has played through a lot of pain during his career already.

"Josh, everyone knows he had knee problems. He's been fighting, he's been struggling," Richard said. "He's been going through pain a whole lot, but he's been out there battling us every day. All I can do as a teammate is just respect him for all he's given us, for all the time he's been out here. I know a lot of people would not be able to do what he's been able to do through all the pain."

Stephens Speaks: Junior quarterback Nick Stephens took the news that he would begin the season as Jonathan Crompton's backup in stride.

"My mindset right now is to keep preparing like I'm the starter," he said. "I never know what's going to happen. I have two years left, this year and another year, and there's a lot of opportunities out there for me. I've got to just keep working hard."

Working Overtime:Since being the named the starter, Crompton has spent extra time throwing with receivers after practice.

That's important, given the fact that Tennessee has just six healthy scholarship receivers, including Rod Wilks, who moved from safety to receiver on Monday.

Tight end Luke Stocker said the timing of UT's offense has improved throughout fall camp.

"My timing with Jonathan is getting a lot better," Stocker said. "The whole offense with Jonathan is getting a lot better. Even with Nick, the offense is getting better as a whole. Every day the coaches are out here preaching, `Timing is it.' Everyone in the offense, including myself, is getting better with timing."

 

 

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