The recent drill at Giants camp involved simulating a linebacker running downhill, right at the offensive lineman. Basically a runaway freight train aiming for a mountain. The key for the lineman is to lower his center of gravity.
“Making sure he has everything nice and tight like we’re teaching him,” offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said Friday.
A large and heavy sack was shoved and swung into each lineman. They’re the tallest players on the Giants roster, and they’ve all been pushed back by the momentum of the bag, some by inches, some by yards.
Evan Neal showed his size and strength in practice on Friday. Noah K. Murray-NY Post
Check that. Not all of them. Evan Neal stood his ground.
“He’s got mass on his side,” Johnson said.
If it wasn’t practice but a real game situation, even the massive Neal would have given way a bit, which would be acceptable as long as he kept his balance. It was practice, however, and Neal proved steadfast.
“Yes, I’m a big person, I have a lot of mass,” Neal said, smiling. “The bag wasn’t that heavy either. I took it pretty well. I know I probably weigh more than the bag.”
The rookie right tackle, who was drafted the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, is living up to his early billing so far. At 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, his teammates — many of them very plus-sized people — marvel at his physical presence. Wide receiver Darius Slayton recently described trailing behind Neal as chasing a fire truck.
Max Garcia, a 30-year-old veteran lineman new to the Giants, noticed Neal immediately.
“He came in, got this stupid deep baritone voice. He’s just an outstanding presence,” Garcia said. “Another rookie, has a long way to go but I’m looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops.”
Thanks to the quality of coaching he received in Alabama, Neal’s technique is more advanced than most NFL rookies. His stamina has been exemplary so far and his attitude and ability to blend in with his older teammates is spot on.
Is he perfect at 21? no sir
“At the end of the day, I’m definitely not a finished product, but I’m getting better and better every day,” Neal said. “I belong here, I belong in this league. I’ll win reps, I’ll lose reps. It’s all part of it. Preseason games and everything and whatnot are just additional experiences that I’m going to have and I’m going to learn from all those mistakes and learn from the things I need to get better at.
It’s early and there will be struggles because there are always first year players regardless of their lineage. Neal has already shown he can shrug off criticism.
After playing 19 snaps—some good, some not so good—in the opening win over the Patriots, Bleacher Report called Neal “one of the NFL’s most disappointing rookies yet.” with 70 career sacks) said in an interview for the 33rd team, “I wasn’t a huge fan of what I saw of Evan Neal.” Long called Neal “top heavy,” pointing out “that he was in the first series downed twice,” accused him of allowing a sack and called his top-heavy tendency “a difficult habit to kick. He could break the habit. Next week he could step up against it.”
The product from Alabama was already praised as a rookie for its strong technology. Noah K. Murray-NY Post
When asked if he’d ever been called “top-heavy,” Neal revealed that he was familiar with Long’s criticism without giving his name.
“I really don’t take the time to focus on what’s going on online,” Neal said. “It’s the internet, everyone has their opinion. I like to listen to the opinions that matter.”
Not everyone approaches him. During the offseason, Neal trained with Hall of Famer and former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, who said on the NFL Network, “I’ve never seen a big man in my life, so big, so fast, who worked so hard. This guy is a workhorse.”
Neal admitted he needs to work on “set angles, hat placement, my base…things that will definitely help take my game to the next level.”
He has already mastered the heavy bag. There is a heavier bag. Johnson calls it “Big Bertha,” but it takes a crew of four to set it up. Maybe that’ll be necessary next time to get Neal out of his spot.