McNeill on Playing Next to Reader: 'It Looks Like Destruction'

Can Alim McNeill unlock another gear of performance?
Oct 30, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill (54) sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the second half at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill (54) sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the second half at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports / David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
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The Detroit Lions believe that Alim McNeill could still have room to grow heading into the 2024 season.

Make no mistake, the coaching staff is dedicated to finding ways for each player to grow every season. However, McNeill possesses traits and athleticism uncommon for his position along the defensive line.

Those characteristics, along with new additions that can help free up the talented tackle, have led the Lions to believe that it could be an exciting year for the N.C. State product.

One newcomer who can help McNeill succeed is nose tackle DJ Reader. Without a true nose tackle on roster last year, McNeill was forced to assume that role despite being undersized.

However, with Reader in the mix, the fourth-year defender can be freed up along the line and play in positions that better fit his skill set. With both of their abilities combined, it could be an exciting combination for Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

"In my head, it just looks like destruction," McNeill said of playing next to Reader. "There's no other way I can see it. Every time I close my eyes and visualize it, I just see destruction."

The 2023 season was by no means underwhelming for McNeill, as it was a breakout campaign of sorts for the immense-sized lineman. He finished the regular season with five sacks, and was playing at a Pro Bowl level before suffering a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Yet, the Lions are very excited about the player, and believe that he can continue to grow within his role. This season is a big one for McNeill. It's the final year of his rookie contract after being drafted in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Campbell, with his eyes on the future, believes that there is even more success in store for the talented defensive lineman.

“I do, I do. I think we all do. 'Mac' (McNeill) has got so much ability," said Lions coach Dan Campbell. "I think he’s one of the -- and the way that he is built and the nimbleness, and the athleticism and power that he has for the way that he is and the way that he’s built, you don’t see that every day. So, we still feel like there’s more in there. He really took a big step last year. We feel like there’s more in there."

One of the team's biggest new coaching additions is defensive line coach Terrell Williams, who many coaches and players have spoken highly of early in his tenure. According to Campbell, the new leader of the D-line immediately identified McNeill as a player who could be dangerous in 2024.

"That’s one of the things Terrell noticed when he came in here, our D-line coach was like, ‘I’ve always liked Alim McNeill, but I see there’s more to this guy.’ We can get more out of him," Campbell said. "That’s a good thing. Some of that is fundamentals and technique and just continuing to push. Mac, he’s one of those guys. I think this can go up another step. Last year was a big year for him.” 


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Christian Booher

CHRISTIAN BOOHER

Sports journalist who has covered the Detroit Lions the past three NFL seasons. Christian brings expert analysis, insights and an ability to fairly assess how the team is performing in a tough NFC North division.