Welcome to the most recent version of “Grinding the Tape.” This week, we’ll be taking a look at new Bucs security Keanu Neal. First, a fast background on the seventh-year defensive again. Neal was initially drafted No. 16 general 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 take care of Dallas that got here with a place swap 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 enjoying security versus final yr when he wasn’t. For this session of GTT, I evaluated Neal’s 2019 video games in opposition to Las Vegas (Week 12), Carolina (Week 8), Dallas (Week 2), and Minnesota (Week 6).
Full disclosure on these clips: NFL Recreation Move doesn’t have All-22 angles for any video games previous to 2021. So, sadly, these clips can be off of the unique broadcast angles.
Neal’s Status Is For Actual
When you have adopted Neal’s profession in any respect, you’re sure to know that his calling card is one in every of 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 finest 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 might be fairly poetic.
However is that each one he can do? Nope. Not even shut. Neal isn’t wherever near good. There are limitations to his sport, however he can nonetheless be a stable contributor to a powerful protection. Listed below are another methods Neal can add worth.
Good Run Suits
The large hits naturally lend themselves to giving Neal status as a run defender. And for probably the most half, it suits. Neal has loved run protection grades above 65.0 in 2017, 2018 and 2020. Right here is an effective instance of him at his finest in opposition to the run.
When Neal makes the precise learn and retains his hole integrity, he can (and does!) re-route a complete play. Watch as he commits to the entrance facet accountability and flows downhill to seal the sting. Mike Davis sees him and is aware of he can not break the run to that facet, and he begins to try to discover a lane to chop again to. Sadly, Neal’s teammates don’t do a fantastic job of uncovering and Davis was capable of work this for acquire. It shouldn’t take away from Neal’s nice job of stopping the preliminary design of the play.
This was most likely my favourite rep of all 4 video games. Let me set the scene: It’s fourth and brief. The Panthers are down by two and simply outdoors of subject purpose vary within the second half. They resolve to go for it. Now, Neal makes this play regardless that he doesn’t make the deal with. How? By studying the skin 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 Suits
Nevertheless, Neal can get caught making the mistaken learn and leaving his hole open, like on the next play in opposition to Dallas.
Neal has front-side accountability on this outdoors zone play. His first responsibility is to get extensive and lower off the sting. Nevertheless, Neal falls for Ezekiel Elliott’s juke transfer behind the road. He will get nervous that Elliott could in the reduction of and he tries to guard an inside hole. The issue is, that isn’t his accountability, as Jones is in good place to deal with it. Neal offers up the entrance facet and this goes for acquire.
Logan Ryan was the offseason addition hailed for his skill to cowl the center of the sphere. 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 in opposition to the common NFL tight finish, he’s bought chops.
Watch Neal on reply to this mesh route. He communicates effectively with linebacker Deion Jones to make sure the 2 of them don’t decide one another, then he stays on prime of No. 16 via the route.
Right here’s one other one on a extra vertical route in opposition to tight finish Ian Thomas.
Neal offers bump off the road after which stays on Thomas as he releases upfield, persevering with to make use of his arms. I’m slightly involved that his penchant for protecting his arms on his man could result in some flags.
However as I wrote earlier than, Neal might be uncovered in opposition to higher athletes. Check out this play in opposition to Minnesota.
You may see Neal launch with Irv Smith Jr. (No. 84) on the snap. Each go away the display because the digicam follows the ball. As Kirk Cousins appears downfield, he instantly picks up Smith, who has created all types of separation in opposition to Neal. This results in an enormous catch and run.
Neal does make the mistaken learn in zone protection greater than you want to. It goes again to him being higher as a field security working in opposition to the run. He simply doesn’t appear to have a fantastic really feel for a way performs develop behind him. He actually works finest when he can hold all the pieces in entrance of him. Right here’s an instance on a purpose line stand in opposition to Minnesota. Strive not to have a look at the ball a lot as at Neal enjoying on the prime 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 enjoying the flat zone. By breaking extensive, Neal permits the skin receiver a straightforward launch on the slant. Cousins misses the learn, electing to throw into double protection beneath. But when he had seen the slant, it might have been a comparatively simple 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 finest. Particularly, it permits him to work decisively towards the ball.
Neal sees Cousins look left, sees the flat growing and begins working down on it earlier than Cousins may even launch the ball. This enables him to knock Smith out of bounds for a acquire of only a single yard.
He diagnoses the display rapidly, drives down on it and blows it up earlier than any offensive lineman might 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 might enable him to function constantly in house. That would restrict his function within the Bucs’ protection. Right here is an instance in opposition to Dalton Schultz of the Cowboys.
Now, I’ll readily admit this was a fantastic 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 involved in 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 acquire. Nevertheless, finally, he gave up the primary down exactly as a result 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 house. 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 realm that Neal struggles in most. Watching him, it looks like 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 C3 scheme. It would result in simple 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 skin, giving Amari Cooper simple inside leverage. Cooper takes benefit, and by the point the move arrives, he has two yards of separation on Neal and makes a improbable catch on a barely overthrown ball.
Right here once more, there’s an instantaneous bail. No backpedal. No skill to learn the run and probably be concerned within the deal with.
Once more, a fast full bail. This one was curious, given Carolina’s personnel grouping. That’s a heavy bundle with the lone extensive receiver on the far facet of the sphere. Why did Neal really feel it essential to drop exhausting and quick, taking himself out of the run match and probably limiting the play?
How Can The Bucs Finest 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 bolstered. However as well as, I got here to understand a number of different facets of his sport. And there’s a nice function I believe he can carve out on the Bucs’ protection. On early downs in opposition to 12 personnel, Neal is a perfect sturdy security who can come into the field to help within the run sport and assist make up for the lack of Jordan Whitehead. If an offense chooses to move, Neal has sufficient athleticism to cowl most tight ends. Then, on lengthy and late downs, Neal can provide option to a playmaker like Mike Edwards. One factor is for sure, although. Between Neal, Ryan and Edwards, Bucs head coach Todd Bowles has the power to play chess and never checkers this yr.
I, for one, am very a lot trying ahead to it.