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Notebook: Evan Neal rehabs; status uncertain

EVAN-NEAL

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Evan Neal believes he was literally born to play tackle in the NFL.

"To be honest, in my opinion, as soon as I stepped out of the womb, I stepped out an offensive tackle," Neal said. "And that's how I feel."

The Giants certainly shared that belief in the 2022 NFL Draft, when they selected the 6-7, 340-pound tackle from the University of Alabama seventh overall. But Neal has not been able to play much at all lately. He has missed the Giants' three previous and five of the last six games with an ankle injury. The Giants return to the field after their bye week on Monday night at home against the Green Bay Packers. But Neal is still not practicing, and it is unknown when, or if, he will return this season.

"That's not something that I can control necessarily, so I don't really want to harp on it too much," Neal said. "But in life, unexpected things happen. So, I'm really just rolling with the punches, controlling everything that I can control so when the opportunity does present itself for me to go back out on the field, I'll be ready."

A knee injury forced Neal to miss four games in his rookie season. But he has started all 22 regular-season and postseason games in which he's played at right tackle. His play has been uneven at times, prompting questions about whether he might be moved inside to guard next year.

"No, I don't think so," general manager Joe Schoen said last week. "I went back and watched the Alabama stuff; the kid can play. We just got to get him to be more consistent. I've got a lot of confidence in Evan, he's a hard worker, it's killing him right now to be out there. He's missing some valuable reps in year two, but as soon as he's healthy, he's scratching and clawing to get back. We are looking forward to getting him back there, but he knows there is some things he can do better and that's what we expect from him.

"Evan got off to a really good camp, had a concussion, missed a couple of weeks, came back, and needs to play better. Evan needs to play better. He knows that. Look forward to getting him back here when he's healthy, but I think he'd admit there's some things that he can do better, and we look forward to him continuing to improve."

When he played for coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, Neal was one of the country's most dominant linemen. He played one season each at left guard, right tackle and left tackle and started each of his 40 games. As a junior in 2021, his final collegiate season, Neal weas selected to numerous All-America teams and was chosen first-team All-SEC.

Can he return to that level of proficiency in the NFL?

"Of course I can," Neal said. "I've put a lot of dominant reps on tape, a lot of times they go unnoticed, a lot of times the reps that I struggle get highlighted. But if you really sit back and watch the tape, I do a lot of good things. I do a lot of dominant things on the football field that a lot of times go unnoticed, but that's the nature of being an offensive lineman. You're not noticed until you mess up pretty much, you know what I'm saying? So, it is what it is. I have to continue to get better, I know I have a lot of work to do, and I embrace it with a smile on my face. So, that's where I'm at."

No one can say when Neal will put that confidence into action. Coach Brian Daboll couldn't offer a detailed update on Evan's prognosis.

"He's rehabbing," Daboll said. "He's in here often with the trainers, doing everything he can do to get back as soon as he can."

Neal hurt his ankle in Buffalo on Oct. 15. He missed the next two games before returning to the lineup on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas. But he had to leave the game after aggravating the injury and hasn't played since. Neal does not believe he returned prematurely.

"I felt good when I came back for Las Vegas," he said. "I was dealing with my right ankle. I didn't have any issue with it. It was just that one play where I got long armed and I fell, it was kind of like a freak thing. Like I fell on it, and it dorsiflexed, so I kind of feel like it had nothing to do with my right ankle, it was just unfortunate that it had to happen."

Neal has been doing position-specific drills on the field.

"Just basically some light ladder drills, getting my feet up under me trying to put more weight on it, put more stress or load," he said. "I'll do some light sled pushes or I'll do some slow-motion pass sets just to get my body or my ankle used to taking on a full load, so that's pretty much where I'm at now. I do a lot of strengthening in my rehab, a lot of balance and a lot of treatment stuff as well. "

But the day after that regimen brings more discomfort.

"To be honest with you, it hurts," he said. "But it's football. Sometimes, you've got to play through pain, But I do want to make sure whenever I do go back out on the field, I'll be ready. I'll definitely have bullets in my gun to shoot with because anybody would never want to go into a war without any bullets in their gun, and that's where I'm at."

Neal said, "I don't know" when asked how close he thinks he is to returning to the field.

"I'm just going to continue to do everything that I can, day-to-day, working with the trainers, work my (butt) off and whenever that day gets here, that's when it gets here," Neal said. "Whenever that day gets here, that's when it gets here. (Heck) yeah, I want to go back out there this season, but just going to see where I'm at, see how I progress and move forward from there."

View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 14 matchup against the Green Bay Packers.

*Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, who missed the victory against New England with a hamstring injury, did not practice again, but believes he has a chance to face the Packers. The players are off Thursday.

"I'm hopeful he'll be out here on Friday," Daboll said. "That's what I'm hoping."

*Quarterback Daniel Jones has been spending long hours in the Giants' headquarters rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Jones tore his ACL in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and underwent surgery two weeks ago today.

"He was here the day after, pretty much, already starting on the rehab with the trainers," Daboll said. "Saw him yesterday, he was walking, he had his big brace on, but you know Daniel, he'll do everything you can do to rehab and get as good as he can."

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