For the first time in a while, the New York Giants are heading into their season opener with optimism surrounding their offensive line.
The Giants’ line ranked 28th in the NFL last year in pass block win rate, according to ESPN. They were 32nd the year before. But the expectation is that when Evan Neal makes his debut against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, that reputation will begin to change.
That might be placing an unfair burden on the No. 7 overall pick. Neal, though, already feels well-equipped to make a successful transition from college to the pros.
Neal had ups and downs throughout the summer, but feels he has learned what it will take for him to handle NFL edge defenders.
“It’s definitely a more technical league, for sure. So I had to become more of a technician,” Neal said. “I couldn’t just rely so much on just my raw athleticism, my talent. I had to become more of a technician as well, working on my pass set angles. I feel like I’m more comfortable in my sets, I’m using my hands more. And I feel like I’m more balanced as well. But I mean, obviously, I have a lot of a lot of work that still needs to be done, but I feel like my game is trending in the right direction.”
Neal worked with the first team throughout training camp and played a few drives during the preseason. Some were disappointed by what Neal displayed in that limited window, though a small preseason sample is not necessarily a sign of things to come. For his part, Neal says hasn’t seen a huge difference yet from his college days at Alabama.
“I haven’t played a regular season game yet. So I’m excited to see what what that shows for sure,” Neal said. “I feel like I got some good looks in preseason, good competition and a lot of good experiences to learn from. So I feel like it’d be the same Week 1, but I regard it as football. It’s football. The field 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. That’s never going to change.”
Of course, no one is expecting Neal to play like an All-Pro player right out of the gate. Neal will be playing opposite Andrew Thomas, who serves as the perfect reminder that it can take some time for an offensive lineman to live to up to pre-draft expectations.
Thomas struggled as a rookie in 2020 but turned in a stellar sophomore season and was arguably the best player on the Giants’ offense last year. The hope is that the two can solidify New York’s right and left tackle positions for the foreseeable future.
“I love Andrew,” Neal said. “Andrew’s a great guy, a great mentor for sure. He just told me man just to focus on what’s inside what’s going on inside. Don’t really dwell or focus on what’s going on outside. Just focus on getting better. I mean, regardless of what type of product is out there, put out there on Sunday. The goal is to get better than next week. You know, just flip the page and then focus on getting better than next week and just continue to make positive growth as a player.”
All the mentorship in the world can’t change the reality that Neal is unlikely to be competing for a championship this year like he is used to doing at Alabama. The Crimson Tide only lost four games during Neal’s three years as a starter.
“I’ve never really had to prepare for losing because I’ve never really lost too much in the past,” Neal said. “I hate losing, I always have and, you know, losing here is not something I’m going to focus on. The goal is to win. I’m going to do everything in my power to help this team win.”
Regardless, Neal will be basking in the emotions of the moment come Sunday.
“I feel amazing, I feel awesome,” Neal said. “My mom and my dad, they’re gonna be at the game to support me. It’s just a blessing man, just a testament to the hard work that it took to get here for sure. But I’m just excited to go out there and play ball.”