FRISCO - On the one hand, Keanu Neal sounds like he's got this "Dallas Cowboys role'' thing nailed down.
"Typical linebacker stuff,'' says the NFL vet, who comes over from the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent converting to safety. "Playing the hook. Playing curl. Dropping in our coverages. Lining over the tight end, playing man on the tight end and the backs, things of that nature.
And your specific position, Keanu?
"WILL and Dime,'' he says. "Playing those positions.''
Neal knows what he's getting into by reuniting with his former head coach in Atlanta, Dan Quinn, who is now the Dallas defensive coordinator.
"He’s awesome man,'' Neal says of Quinn. "It really brightens me up thinking about it.''
And the Cowboys know what they're getting in Neal.
Says head coach Mike McCarthy: "He’s a stud. He’s a stud of a player. ... I think football comes extremely natural to him. He’s making the full-time conversion into the linebacker room. He looks very comfortable.''
OK, but what about that "WILL'' thing? And what about that "Dime'' thing? Our understanding is that the plan is for Leighton Vander Esch to top the depth chart as the weak-side (WILL) linebacker. And in Tuesday's OTA practice at The Star, we watched as linebacker Jaylon Smith, in a variety of roles, seemed to rarely come off the field at all during first-team defense work. And then there is Micah Parsons, the first-round rookie who is pegged to start at the MIKE.
Let's don't even yet count another touted pick from the NFL Draft, Jabril Cox, who at least is seen to have a future.
What about the present? What about when Neal's stated vision of his "role'' clashes a bit with other visions?
"I don't categorize myself," says Neal, 25, who is bulking up from his safety weight of 217 to about 222. "I feel I can play safety, linebacker, wherever they put me ... I'm going to prepare to go out there and play at my best. Growing up I played linebacker in middle school and high school. Then we changed the defense and I switched to safety.
"I went to college as a safety but, in my heart, I have been a linebacker for a while.''
That's a good thing. But Parsons, Vander Esch and Smith aren't just "linebackers in their hearts''; they're, you know, actual linebackers.
Says Smith of the changes: "Micah is going to do some great things. Leighton is looking great. Keanu, all the new guys coming in, it's just an amazing linebacker room.''
And maybe that's the point: That the roles aren't really nailed down. That between the incumbent guys who weren't good enough last year and the newcomers who have yet to prove anything, jobs are actually up for grabs - real competition being the component that might actually allow Neal and the Dallas linebackers, however they line up, to be "amazing.''
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