New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal won’t turn 22 until September 19, but the seventh overall draft pick is already showing wisdom and maturity beyond his years.
A good example is his securing jersey No. 73, the number he’s worn since high school, but a number that wasn’t available until this week when Matt Gono, who previously held it, was waived. Rather than shell out some of his first-round money to Gono to secure it, Neal simply waited, and when the number became available, he pounced on it.
Business sense aside, while many rookies have that wide-eyed, “deer in the headlights” look to them when they first set foot on an NFL campus, Neal has buckled up and gotten right down to business, working on every facet of his game.
“I feel like from the mental side of the game for sure and my technique,” Neal said when asked where he’s seen the most improvement in his game since the spring. “I'm still working to improve it every day, but the techniques that the coaches are trying to coach me, I'm definitely receiving them well and developing those and getting better.”
Neal, who was one of the most polished tackles in the 2022 draft class, has been learning some adjustments to his technique to make himself even better.
“I think a lot of kids, especially tackles, set a particular way, and we set differently just based philosophically on how we want to protect the quarterback,” explained offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. “He's making like tremendous strides every day. So I think he's very conscientious and works very hard. He's a guy that pushes himself for me.”
His teammates are also taking notice.
“I’ve been around some good tackles in my career, and I’ve never seen a rookie in Evan be a vet so early on,” said center Jon Feliciano. “That dude is, after every meeting, at night we walk by the weight room, and he’s foam rolling or doing something. He’s well beyond his years in that regard of taking care of his body.”
Neal is taking the praise in stride.
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“I want to feel my best going out there to practice and put my best foot forward every day to get better,” he said. “I can’t do that when my legs are constantly feeling heavy, or I’m just not doing the necessary things to maintain my body, whether it be my joints, my ankles, or my flexibility and things like that. So, I want to take the time to be proactive so that way when I do go on the field, I can play fast.”
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He's also taking his bad reps in stride, adopting the old cornerback mentality: forget about the previous rep, good or bad, and focus on what’s coming up.
“Yeah, turn the page. It's football,” Neal said. “I'm at the highest level, so obviously, you're going to win some, and you’re going to lose some, but the most important thing is to keep on fighting and win the next play.”
As gentle as Neal seems off the field, he is the complete opposite on the field. Johnson called him a bus, given his size and ability to shut down pass rushers and move defenders off the point of attack to open holes for the running game.
Neal said he takes pride in doing all that and then some.
“Yeah, I'm a big guy, I'm strong, I'm long, and a lot of times when I get my hands on somebody, I can shut it down right now. My job is to keep guys off of the quarterback, so whatever way possible, whatever way works best at that moment, that’s what I'm going to use,” he said.
As he sharpens his skill set, Neal becomes more confident about his prospect of being on an NFL roster this fall.
“I definitely know I belong, and I can play at this level,” he said. “Camp has been getting me better. I feel like I have been getting other guys better as well. It’s exciting to go out there and continue to compete, get better with my teammates, and hopefully win some ball games.”
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