Senior safety LaDarrell McNeil returning next week for Tennessee

Tennessee received some unexpected news this week when it was learned senior safety LaDarrell McNeil's playing career was not over, as originally feared. McNeil returned to the practice field Tuesday for the Vols and according to his coach, he will be back on the field is just over a week's time.

"LaDarrell McNeil, we fully expect him to be ready for next week's game," Butch Jones said. "I'll tell you what, I've been so proud of him, and I know his family is excited and he's excited. So we expect to have him back next week and he has been in practice in a non-contact role, so excited about that."

So what changed for McNeil? It was only a few weeks ago that the senior was feared lost for the season after being diagnosed with a neck injury at the conclusion of fall camp. Having started over 30 games in his career, McNeil was one of the more seasoned players on the roster heading into 2015.

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"Everything is about taking precautionary measures and opinions," Jones said. "He flew to Texas to meet with some doctors that come highly recommended, that deal with the National Football League. He had a full examination, MRI, all that. After that, they concluded that it's safe for him to play football, and for him to get back on the practice field and start competing. Just seeing the smile on his face and the excitement of his teammates was very, very rewarding. Everything we do is about the benefit and the welfare of our student athletes, and taking the precautionary measures that we need to take."

The senior's return could be a huge boost to a secondary that struggled defending the deep ball in the opener against Bowling Green. Unfortunately McNeil will not be in uniform for this weekend's game against Oklahoma, however his presence will be a welcome sight for SEC play. The Vols will need his leadership as they open the conference slate at Florida in two weeks.