The drill at Giants camp the other day was about simulating a linebacker running downhill, straight at the offensive lineman. Basically a runaway freight train headed for a mountain. The key for the lineman is to drop his center of gravity.
“Making sure he’s got everything nice and tight, the way we teach it,” offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said Friday.
A large, heavy bag was pushed and turned toward each lineman. They’re the biggest players on the Giants’ roster and all were pushed back by the momentum of the bag, some just a few inches, others a few feet.
Look at this. Not all of those. Evan Neal stood his ground.
“He has the dough on his side,” Johnson said.
If it hadn’t been a drill, but a real game situation, even the huge Neal would have moved a bit, which would be acceptable, as long as he kept his balance. However, he was a simulacrum and Neal proved to be immovable.
“Yeah, I’m a big human, I have a lot of mass,” Neal said, smiling. “The bag wasn’t that heavy either. I was quite capable of absorbing it. I know I probably weigh more than the bag.”
The rookie right tackle, taken with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, is so far making good on his anticipated billing. His teammates, many of them large human beings, marvel at his 6-foot-7, 350-pound physical presence. Wide receiver Darius Slayton he recently referred to taking a lane behind Neal as running after a fire engine.
Max Garcia, a 30-year veteran lineman new to the Giants, noticed Neal right away.
“He came in, he’s got this stupid deep baritone voice. He is just an imposing presence,” Garcia said. “He’s still a rookie, he’s got a long way to go, but I’m excited for him. I am really looking forward to seeing how he progresses.”
Neal’s technique, thanks to the quality of training he received in Alabama, is more advanced than most rookie NFL players. His durability thus far has been exemplary and his attitude and ability to fit in with his older teammates is up to par.
At 21, is he perfect? No sir.
“At the end of the day, I am definitely not a finished product, but I’m getting better every day,” Neal said. “I belong here, I belong in this league. I’m going to gain reps, I’m going to lose reps. That’s all part of it. Preseason games and everything else is just additional experiences that I’m going to get under my belt and learn from all those mistakes and learn from things that I need to get better at.”
It’s early and there will be fights, because there are always first-year players, regardless of their pedigree. Neal has already shown the ability to ignore the criticism that is thrown at him.
After playing 19 snaps, some good, some not so good, in the opening preseason win over the Patriots, Bleacher Report called Neal “one of the most disappointing rookies in the NFL thus far.” Chris Long, a former NFL defensive end (with 70 career sacks of his own) in an interview for 33rd Team said, “I wasn’t a big fan of what I saw of Evan Neal.” Long called Neal “top-heavy,” noted that he “was down twice on the first drive,” blamed him for giving up a sack, and called his tendency to be top-heavy “a hard habit to break.” kick”. He could kick the habit. He could kick it next week.”
When asked if he had ever been called “heavy on top,” it was clear that Neal was familiar with Long’s criticism without mentioning his name.
“I don’t really take the time to focus on what’s going on on the internet,” Neal said. “It’s the Internet, everyone has their opinion. I like to hear the opinions that matter.”
Not everyone comes to him. During the offseason, Neal worked out with Hall of Famer and former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, who told NFL Network, “I’ve never seen a big guy in my life, this big, this fast, work so hard. This guy is a workhorse.”
Neal admitted that he has to work on “fixed angles, hat placement and my base…things that will definitely help push 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 four-man crew to set it up. Maybe that’s what it takes next time to get Neal out of his place.