By his own admission, New York Giants right tackle Evan Neal has endured an uneven rookie campaign learning all about how NFL pass rushers try to make their opponents look goofy.
This was particularly the case for the Philadelphia Eagles, who mostly lined up fullback Haason Reddick over the former Alabama product on most snaps. In the Week 14 encounter against the Eagles, Neal allowed eight of his 10 total presses this season, with the eight pass presses being a season-high for the rookie, according to Pro Football Focus.
But Neal is undeterred. He thinks the more looks he gets at her, the smoother his game will run.
“I’m getting a better feeling for her,” he said on Tuesday. “And as I study these guys, having that experience playing against them will help me prepare.”
The Eagles aren’t the only team that has given Neal problems. He currently has a 94.1 pass blocking efficiency, finishing last in a group of nine rookie NFL tackles to have at least 700 offensive snaps this season.
For Neal, most of his struggles have come since he returned from a knee injury mid-year that cost him four games. Thirty-one of his 47 strains came from a sprained MCL on his return, including eight in last week’s wild card win against the Vikings, raising questions about how he feels.
“I’m doing well. I’m ready,” Neal insisted. “At this point in the year you won’t find a guy who isn’t beat up in some way, shape or form. But I get up. I’m ready.”
Neal, who is wise beyond his age, was realistic about his rookie season. “I feel like it was a learning year for me. I’ve had some highs. I’ve had some downs. I had to fight my way through adversity, got hurt, fought and came back. So I feel like it’s been a growing year for me – a learning year. And I feel like I’ve treated myself in the best way I can,” he said.
That includes not folding mentally when push comes to shove.
“Failure is part of life,” he said. “I feel like you learn from failure and that’s how I approached it. The good things I’m doing out there, I try to capitalize on it and do more of it. The bad things, I try to clean them up as best I can.”
Luckily for Neal, teammate Andrew Thomas, who famously went through his own struggles as a rookie, was there for his younger teammate.
“He was in my ear giving me advice on what he was going through in his rookie year and how he was dealing with it and stuff like that. So I’m grateful for him and for being able to help me in this way,” Neal said.
Neal has always enjoyed playing football and with the stakes higher than ever this weekend will be no different for him in terms of goals.
“I’m here to go out and compete and give everything I’ve got; to empty everything I have in the tank. And at the end of the game, no matter what the outcome, I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know I’ve given it my all,” he said.
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