Welcome to the newest version of “Grinding the Tape.” This week, we’ll be new Bucs security Keanu Neal.
First, a fast background on the seventh-year defensive again. Neal was initially drafted No. 16 total in 2016 by the Atlanta Falcons. Over the course of his first 5 seasons with Atlanta, he logged 338 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions. In 2021, Neal signed a one-year cope with Dallas that got here with a place change to linebacker. He was capable of submit 72 tackles and a sack with the Cowboys.
Now, coming to the Bucs, Neal is switching again to security. He’ll compete with Mike Edwards and Logan Ryan to play alongside Antoine Winfield, Jr. within the Bucs’ defensive backfield. We profiled Ryan in a earlier session of GTT.
With the intention to present the most effective image of Neal’s potential contributions to the Bucs, I made a decision to have a look at his 2020 tape when he was taking part in security versus final yr when he wasn’t. For this session of GTT, I evaluated Neal’s 2019 video games towards Las Vegas (Week 12), Carolina (Week 8), Dallas (Week 2), and Minnesota (Week 6).
Full disclosure on these clips: NFL Sport Move doesn’t have All-22 angles for any video games previous to 2021. So, sadly, these clips shall be off of the unique broadcast angles.
Neal’s Status Is For Actual
You probably have adopted Neal’s profession in any respect, you might be certain to know that his calling card is one among a heavy hitter who likes to dish out highlight-reel tackles. And the status is well-deserved. Check out simply a few the vicious hits he has dished out in his profession.
The dude can lay a ball service flat out. He’s completely at his greatest when he retains the play in entrance of him, makes use of his fast and highly effective first step to work downhill and will get to function in a brief space. The outcomes could be fairly poetic.
However is that every one he can do? Nope. Not even shut. Neal isn’t wherever near good. There are limitations to his recreation, however he can nonetheless be a stable contributor to a powerful protection. Listed below are another methods Neal can add worth.
Good Run Matches
The massive hits naturally lend themselves to giving Neal status as a run defender. And for essentially the most half, it suits. Neal has loved Professional Soccer Focus run protection grades above 65.0 in 2017, 2018 and 2020. Right here is an efficient instance of him at his greatest towards the run.
When Neal makes the appropriate learn and retains his hole integrity, he can (and does!) re-route a whole play. Watch as he commits to the entrance facet duty and flows downhill to seal the sting. Mike Davis sees him and is aware of he can’t break the run to that facet, and he begins to attempt to discover a lane to chop again to. Sadly, Neal’s teammates don’t do an excellent job of uncovering and Davis was capable of work this for achieve. It shouldn’t take away from Neal’s nice job of stopping the preliminary design of the play.
This was in all probability my favourite rep of all 4 video games. Let me set the scene: It’s fourth-and-short. The Panthers are down by two and simply outdoors of area objective vary within the second half. They determine to go for it. Now, Neal makes this play regardless that he doesn’t make the sort out. How? By studying the surface run, getting down into his hole and blowing up the fullback, who’s performing because the lead blocker. In doing so, he creates a gap large enough for Jones to slide into and cease the working again for a loss and a turnover on downs. Magnificent!
Not-So-Good Run Matches
Nevertheless, Neal can get caught making the improper learn and leaving his hole open, like on the next play towards Dallas.
Neal has front-side duty on this outdoors zone play. His first responsibility is to get huge and reduce off the sting. Nevertheless, Neal falls for Ezekiel Elliott’s juke transfer behind the road. He will get apprehensive that Elliott could reduce and he tries to guard an inside hole. The issue is, that isn’t his duty, as Jones is in good place to deal with it. Neal provides up the entrance facet and this goes for achieve.
Logan Ryan was the offseason addition hailed for his means to cowl the center of the sector. However he isn’t the one security that may do it. Neal isn’t going to have the ability to cling with elite athletes, however towards the common NFL tight finish, he’s received chops.
Watch Neal on reply to this mesh route. He communicates nicely with linebacker Deion Jones to make sure the 2 of them don’t choose one another, then he stays on high of No. 16 via the route.
Right here’s one other one on a extra vertical route towards tight finish Ian Thomas.
Neal provides bump off the road after which stays on Thomas as he releases upfield, persevering with to make use of his fingers. I’m a little bit involved that his penchant for conserving his fingers on his man could result in some flags.
However as I wrote earlier than, Neal could be uncovered towards higher athletes. Check out this play towards Minnesota.
You possibly can see Neal launch with Irv Smith Jr. (No. 84) on the snap. Each depart the display because the digicam follows the ball. As Kirk Cousins appears to be like downfield, he instantly picks up Smith, who has created all kinds of separation towards Neal. This results in a giant catch and run.
Neal does make the improper learn in zone protection greater than you prefer to. It goes again to him being higher as a field security working towards the run. He simply doesn’t appear to have an excellent really feel for the way performs develop behind him. He actually works greatest when he can hold every thing in entrance of him. Right here’s an instance on a objective line stand towards Minnesota. Attempt not to have a look at the ball a lot as at Neal taking part in on the high of your display.
Watch as he breaks out to cowl the slot receiver heading to the flat. The issue is, the nook is already there taking part in the flat zone. By breaking huge, Neal permits the surface receiver a simple launch on the slant. Cousins misses the learn, electing to throw into double protection beneath. But when he had seen the slant, it could have been a comparatively straightforward landing.
That’s to not say that Neal all the time makes poor reads. There was sufficient tape of him making fast, assured choices that enabled him to do what he does greatest. Particularly, it permits him to work decisively towards the ball.
Neal sees Cousins look left, sees the flat creating and begins working down on it earlier than Cousins may even launch the ball. This permits him to knock Smith out of bounds for a achieve of only a single yard.
He diagnoses the display shortly, drives down on it and blows it up earlier than any offensive lineman may get a hat on him. That’s an superior rep.
As I discussed earlier than, Neal is a restricted athlete. Whereas he has an explosive first step that has aided him in turning into the spectacular downhill participant that he’s, he lacks the top-end velocity and agility that will enable him to function persistently in area. That would restrict his position within the Bucs’ protection. Right here is an instance towards Dalton Schultz of the Cowboys.
Now, I’ll readily admit this was an excellent schemed-up contact by offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Neal will get picked by the within launch of the receiver, whereas Schultz breaks for the flat for a wide-open contact. However I’m extra occupied with what occurs as soon as Schultz will get the ball. He is ready to break Neal down and get the nook, including 11-12 yards after the catch.
Right here’s another for good measure.
I consider this clip is a bit distinctive. Neal was capable of cease this play for a brief achieve. Nevertheless, in the end, he gave up the primary down exactly because of his athleticism. He was fast to learn and react. However watch as he tracks Curtis Samuel out of the backfield. The 2 of them cowl the identical floor laterally. However watch the distinction in vertical area. Samuel strikes up from the 37 to the 30 in the identical period of time it takes Neal to maneuver from 27. That’s a distinction of 4 yards, and on this occasion, it’s additionally the distinction between a fourth down and a primary down.
That is the world that Neal struggles in most. Watching him, it looks as if he’s conscious of his restricted velocity and tries to cheat by placing little or no right into a backpedal and bailing early to a full dash. This results in him not seeing the play develop, since his again is to it. Moreover, he can get rotated simply. He can’t do that as a deep security within the Bucs’ base Cowl 3 scheme. It is going to result in straightforward reads for opposing quarterbacks to benefit from.
Watch on the outset of the play as Neal drops to his deep zone. His hips are instantly turned to the surface, giving Amari Cooper straightforward inside leverage. Cooper takes benefit, and by the point the go arrives, he has two yards of separation on Neal and makes a incredible catch on a barely overthrown ball.
Right here once more, there’s an instantaneous bail. No backpedal. No means to learn the run and doubtlessly be concerned within the sort out.
Once more, a fast full bail. This one was curious, given Carolina’s personnel grouping. That’s a heavy package deal with the lone huge receiver on the far facet of the sector. Why did Neal really feel it essential to drop onerous and quick, taking himself out of the run match and doubtlessly limiting the play?
How Can The Bucs Greatest Use Neal?
Coming into this analysis, I knew Neal’s status. However watching him over the course of those a number of video games, that status was actually strengthened. However as well as, I got here to understand a number of different facets of his recreation. And there’s a nice position I believe he can carve out on the Bucs’ protection.
On early downs towards 12 personnel, Neal is a perfect sturdy security who can come into the field to help within the run recreation and assist make up for the lack of Jordan Whitehead. If an offense chooses to go, Neal has sufficient athleticism to cowl most tight ends.
Then, on lengthy and late downs, Neal can provide technique to a playmaker like Mike Edwards. One factor is for sure, although. Between Neal, Ryan and Edwards, Bucs head coach Todd Bowles has the flexibility to play chess and never checkers this yr.
I, for one, am very a lot wanting ahead to it.