Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring plenty of roster depth within an organization has proven to be extremely valuable across the league this season, especially for the Seahawks.
While it’s certainly not a glamorous job, being a member of Seattle’s practice squad has provided new opportunities for many overlooked players through just four games. In particular, strong safety Ryan Neal has definitely benefited from this unusual situation and he’s been able to run with the opportunity.
After spending the majority of last season on the practice roster – appearing in just three regular season games – Neal returned to the Pacific Northwest for a second campaign and has flourished in an injury-replacement role so far. That said, his success isn’t something that has completely shocked coach Pete Carroll, as he admitted the 24-year old’s tenacity was a big reason why the club signed him in 2019.
“I think he was in Atlanta, and he was just running around and he just showed a real aggressive style,” Carroll discussed. “He’s tall and long and all that. We thought maybe he could play corner for us. He’d grown up as a safety I understand, so we kind of always knew that but we wanted to see what would he look like as a corner, which only helps him in our system because we don’t have a hesitation at all to match him up with whomever.”
“But I really think it was the aggressive style, that he was kind of an attack player is what caught my eye and I thought you could see enough in the film that we saw that you could see what kind of style player he’d be, and we just didn’t know how good or how he learned we didn’t know all that stuff at the time.”
Unfortunately for Neal, he was limited to special teams’ duties over his three games last season, which certainly prevented him from showcasing his full potential. But thanks to practice rosters expanding to 16 players, the Seahawks were able to retain him following training camp and he’s been able to fill in very nicely for teammate Jamal Adams, who’s been battling with a groin injury over the last two weeks.
Considering the club wasn’t sure what to expect from the 6-foot-3 safety, the coaching staff has to be very impressed with his performance over this small sample size. Citing the Southern Illinois product’s strong showing, Carroll detailed what he’s liked about the third-year pro along with what he’s added to the team’s secondary.
“He’s become a great addition to this opportunity and to this defense to do what he’s been doing,” Carroll mentioned. “So he brings a lot with him, it’s not just athleticism, it’s the smarts and his attitude and his character and all that’s added to it.”
Through just two contests, Neal has earned 100 defensive snaps, producing 10 solo tackles, three pass deflections, along with a pair of interceptions, including his game-winning catch against Dallas in Week 2. Additionally, the undrafted free agent has also performed effectively in pass coverage, allowing four catches for just 24 yards, only nine yards after the catch, and a measly 47.1 passer rating.
With Carroll confirming Adams won’t be suiting up against Minnesota this weekend, Neal is expected to start at the strong safety position for a second consecutive game. Though the youngster hasn’t been able to digest his situation yet, he’s extremely excited to take the field once again and continue to help carry the load in the secondary.
“It’s just been fast, fast, fast and I kind of like that because you don’t get a moment to take it in, it’s kind of like just next man up and buckle up let’s go,” Neal explained. “So that’s kind of how I’ve been looking at it, just the whole significance of it. I haven’t really even gotten a moment to take it all in, I’m just like ‘it’s my turn now and let’s just go and let’s play.’ Like I told Jamal [Adams], I’m here to hold it down until you’re ready to come back and for everybody else, I’m just holding it down till everybody gets back.”
“I know that my team is counting on me, so I feel like I have to bring my best and make sure I got all my boxes checked off and making sure I’m improving every day.”