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2022 Spring Football

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Notebook: Evan Neal seeing his 'dreams come true'


Even as a 21-year-old, there are not many players in the NFL larger in stature than Evan Neal.

Measuring 6-foot-7, 345 pounds, the Giants' first-round selection in last month's draft stands out whenever he steps onto the field. Or anywhere for that matter. Despite his massive frame and three years of experience starting on Alabama's offensive line, Neal has a long road ahead in preparing himself for the level of talent he is set to go against on the professional level.

"Elite pass rushers," coach Brian Daboll said when asked what Neal will be facing in the NFL. "Good edge setters for the most part. He's a big man, so there's not going to be a ton of people that are bigger than him.

"But the athleticism of the players that he's going to have to face, the movement up front that he's going to get, the quickness that some of these guys have and ultimately the experience. Every rookie has to go through it. You're experienced playing football. You're just not experienced playing in the National Football League. There's a lot of things that he's going to have to learn and keep building on, but I think he's a mature young guy. He's played a lot of different spots and I think that will help him, too, in terms of how he sees it. When you are a rookie, you have a long way to go, really, with everything."

The Giants selected Neal with the No. 7 overall pick with the notion of plugging him in at right tackle with Andrew Thomas, the team's 2020 first round pick, at left tackle. Neal last played on the right side in 2020, when he started 13 games for the Crimson Tide and was credited with just 1.5 sacks allowed by the Alabama coaches. 

While in the process of getting acclimated once again with the right side, the rookie expressed his excitement just to be back on the football field.

"It feels great just to go out there, get back in the right type of stance -- ain't played right tackle since my sophomore year," Neal told the media Saturday. "So brought back some pretty good nostalgia. It's just really good, man. You know, to practice on an NFL team, it doesn't get better than that. Definitely my dreams came true. Just excited, for sure…

"Really just trying to make sure my stance and my set, you know, being on the left side, really just transitioning everything back over to the right. That's pretty much what it is."

While the transition from college to the pros is always an adjustment, Neal does benefit from the fact that Daboll spent time coaching at 'Bama on Nick Saban's staff.

"Being that Coach Dabs is from Alabama, it's pretty similar schematically," Neal said of learning a new offense. "There are a few nuances as far as verbiage and terminology and things like that, but from a technical standpoint, it's pretty much what I've done."

When rookie camp wraps up Sunday, Neal will not have a long wait before the veterans return to Quest Diagnostics Training Center. OTAs begin on Monday, and the rookie lineman is eager to start building chemistry with Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and the entire offense.

"It's going to be pretty cool," said Neal. "I'm just excited to go out there and do my best to help the team, for sure. Got a chance to shake Daniel's hand, he's a pretty cool guy. I don't think I have met Saquon yet, so I'm just excited to continue to just build a relationship with those guys and just help the team."

*When putting his coaching staff together, one of the most important hires for Daboll was bringing Mike Kafka on as offensive coordinator. While the two hadn't previously worked together, it has not taken long for Daboll and Kafka to develop a strong relationship.

"Yeah, it's been great," Daboll said about working with the former Chiefs QB Coach. "First of all, he's a good person. He's a good father, good husband, very easy to talk to. Smart. Obviously, he went to Northwestern. But smart football-wise, too. I think he's had good upbringing in this profession. He's 34 years old, but he's learned a lot from Coach Reid and the things they did at Kansas City. He has some really good ideas and thoughts on some of the stuff they did there.

"Easy to work with in terms of integrating and mixing systems of how we are doing things and trying to come up with the best thing for the Giants. Good leader for the guys. Kind of reserved, if you will, but that offsets me a little bit, too, which is good.

Kafka was a fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. After two years in Philadelphia, he spent time with six teams from 2013-2015.

According to Daboll, the offensive coordinator's experience as an NFL quarterback provides an extra boost for Jones and the entire QB room.

"I think experience at that position is always helpful," said Daboll. "That doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a good coach at it, but he started the right way. He started way back at Northwestern and kind of went up the ranks. Has really good eyes for the position. He sees it obviously like he's playing it.

"But he's really good at teaching, which is an important part of being a coach. You have to be a good teacher and make sure they can see it through your eyes and have good communication with your players. I've been happy with him."

Get your first look at the newest Giants as they hit the practice field at rookie minicamp.

*Daboll was asked what he's seen from Nigerian offensive tackle Roy Mbaeteka, who is among the tallest players currently on the Giants roster and who has never played organized football.

"We're starting from ground zero with him and he's trying to soak everything up," said the head coach. "There's a lot at that position. There's a lot of words and a lot of communication that goes on. He's got a great personality. Bobby (Johnson) and Tony (Sparano) have done a really good job just meeting with him, but we have a long way to go."

Mbaeteka is listed on the Giants roster at 6-foot-9, 320 pounds. While that is considered by most to be an ideal length for an NFL lineman, Daboll knows the 22-year-old still has a ways to go.

"I've been around," the head coach said. "I've had some experience being in the league as long as I have -- Steve Neal was a guy, and I'm not comparing him to Steve Neal by any stretch, the wrestler. But when you're playing a new sport for the first time, you have size, you have some athleticism, you have some length, but there's just so much you've got to learn. When things start happening at a fast pace, particularly in that position where things happen so quickly.

"You know, we'll work with him day-by-day. He's a good size, length, athletic guy to work with. But certainly a long way to go."

*The head coach has been vocal with his support of the New York Rangers in their first round matchup with Pittsburgh in the NHL playoffs. After attending Games 2 and 5 at Madison Square Garden, both of which resulted in victories for the Rangers, Daboll explained to the local media how the Rangers' comeback serves as a great example of perseverance in professional sports.

"Yeah, I hope so," he responded when asked if he'd be at MSG for Game 7 on Sunday. "Yeah, I'd love to be. Really good example, though. You're down 3-1 in the series, 2-0 in Game 5 and 2-0 in Game 6 and everybody is writing you off, and what do they do? They just keep competing. Put one in right after the other, then the other team comes back, scores right away, lose a little bit of momentum, and finish off the game strong. That's pretty cool team to watch right now…

"Look at the Kentucky Derby the other day. Horse wasn't even in the race, was it, until the last day? That's athletics. That's sports. You go through a lot of tough times. Got to stay mentally strong."


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