New York Giants fans rejoiced when the team selected offensive tackle Evan Neal out of Alabama with the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Finally, it’s hoped, the team has their bookend tackles locked down for the foreseeable future. But of course, long-standing concerns about the offensive tackle position — and the offensive line in general — have the Giants’ fanbase on edge. Will Neal develop into a reliable starter who can be a long-term answer? Or will he be another big investment that doesn’t pan out for the offensive line?
As with so much about the Giants’ offense, it seems like every snap in practice is a referendum on the player. But for Neal himself, the goal is to keep moving forward and just get a bit better every day.
Improvement is the name of the game for every rookie to enter the NFL. Regardless of how highly graded or drafted they are, no rookie comes into the NFL as a finished product. They all have to develop, and that happens at a different rate for every rookie.
Concerns have sprung up regarding Neal’s development, particularly after some ugly reps in early one-on-one drills against the Giants’ edge defenders. What’s lost in those reports is the fact that those one-on-one drills are really more for the defenders and the offensive lineman is often in the worst possible position.
11-on-11 reps in practice are much more useful, but it’s really the real game reps in preseason that are the most important for their development and gauging their progress.
Neal said, “A live game scenario, a live game situation – it was definitely a great experience to have.”
He understands what he needs to work on, and he’s been taking his coaching to heart. “I need to continue to work on the same things that I have been harping on with myself and the things that the coaches have been emphasizing as well,” he said. “Just different technical things as far as like set angles, hat placement and my base. That’s pretty much what I need to work on, things that are definitely going to help propel my game to the next level.”
While Neal will certainly have his struggles as a rookie, he does have the advantage of receiving excellent coaching at Alabama, as well as playing in a “Pro Style” offense. That should help shorten his learning curve on the mental side of the game and know his role in the blocking scheme more quickly.
Neal said, “I’m comfortable and confident that I will be able to perform and execute anything that the coaches ask me to do in our scheme and our offense. It’s a similar scheme that I ran in college, just different verbiage and different terminology. I don’t really have those kinds of conversations with my coaches because everything they ask me to do is well within my capabilities.”
As we’ve been saying all along, every rookie has a development period. There will be ups and downs for every rookie, and their progression generally looks more like a rollercoaster than a straight line from draft day to being a seasoned vet.
The good news is that Neal understands where he is, and what he needs to do to get better.
“At the end of the day, I’m definitely not a finished product but I’m getting better and better every day”, he said. “I belong here, I belong in this league and like I say, I’m just going to take it day by day. I am going to get better day by day by going out there, going to practice. I’m going to win reps, I’m going to lose reps. That’s all a part of it. The preseason games and everything and so forth are just extra experiences that I’m going to get under my belt and I’m going to learn from all those mistakes and learn from the things that I need to get better at.”
Evan Neal is not a center
It seems as though every day we’ve had news of another injury to the Giants’ interior offensive line and the center position in particular. So far the Giants have lost Jon Feliciano, Shane Lemieux, Ben Bredeson, Jamil Douglas, and Garrett McGhin to injuries. They’re currently relying on veteran guard Max Garcia to be their starting center. Not only are the injuries at center making that position shaky, but they’re depleting the depth of the entire offensive line dangerously.
But while there might be concerns about the integrity of the Giants’ interior offensive line, Neal hasn’t noticed a drop-off in the communication or flow of information from the center to the tackles.
He said, “It hasn’t really been really difficult at all, honestly. The communication has been the same from all of us. We sit in the same meetings, we all speak the same language. There really hasn’t been an issue or a difference at all as far as communication and things like that. It’s been pretty seamless if you ask me.”
The Giants might have asked fellow rookie Joshua Ezeudu to cross-train at center. He’s an athletic player with plenty of versatility, suggesting he might have been a candidate. However, he too has been injured, which also impacts the Giants’ depth at both guard and tackle spots.
The situation at center is getting bad enough that the Giants coaching staff may hold some veterans out of Sunday’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, things aren’t so bad in the middle of the offensive line that they’ve asked Neal to learn the center position, though he was (tongue in cheek) asked about that.
“No, not yet. I don’t think they are going to do that,” he replied with a laugh. “I may snap the ball over the quarterback’s head. They may not want me to do that.”
The Giants certainly hope things don’t get so desperate that they’re asking their 6-foot-7, 340-pound rookie tackle to play center — though that would certainly be a sight to see.
Instead, the Giants would rather he focus on continuing to improve at right tackle.