Keanu Neal taking on leadership role on Falcons’ defense 


Falcons safety Keanu Neal is low-key off the field.

On the field, he’s a bone-rattling hitter who must help lead a turnaround over the second half of the season, which starts Sunday when the Falcons (4-4) host the Cowboys (5-3) at 4:25 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

“Leadership has no name, no age and no face,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manual said. “I think a lot of people do it in a lot of ways. You have the Ray Lewises that we love of the world that step in. You have the Ed Reeds, who barely say a few words.”

Neal is more in the middle. 

“I think he’s rolling into that, understanding that behind the scenes he has to do the small things in order to show his leadership,” Manuel said. “Because he does it on the field. He understands that it’s the small things that make teams great. I think he’s stepping to that role.”

Neal, who was selected 16th overall in the 2015 draft out of Florida, is getting more comfortable as he is taking on an expand role on the team.  

“I’m started to speak more,” Neal said. “I’m trying to continue to grow that part of my game by being more vocal whether if its communicating on the field or talking off the field. I’m just continuing to grow as a player.” 

The coaches are noticing as Neal steps forward on the team.

“Keanu has such a serious approach about his game that he’s really one of those guys that’s always trying to find an area to improve,” Quinn said. “We talk about the one percent. Can this part of our game really improve? That could be the technique, it could be the way I play the scheme. For him, one of the areas he was really trying to dial in on was the communication piece.”

Neal has been leaning on free safety Ricardo Allen during his development. 

“I know he admires (Ricardo Allen and) the amount of studying that he does,” Neal said. “He’s able to share some of that information across (the defense). The physical part of his game is really intact in terms of owning his fit, making his hits.”

Neal has been working on his coverage skills, too. 

“He’s improved as a man-to-man cover player, and we will feature those guys in that way,” Quinn said. “After last year as a rookie, he was one of the players elected as a chief, so you can imagine the impact he made on his teammates very early on for a guy who’s just 21.”

Neal ranks second on the team with 59 tackles and he has two forced fumbles. 

“I was very excited that we created some takeaways,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I thought Keanu specifically was as physical as could be (against Carolina). I think in 22 regular-season games, he has something like seven forced fumbles. He is a guy that brings it.” 

Neal knows the Falcons’ run defense must improve. The Falcons gave up a season-high 201 yards rushing against Carolina. Even though, Ezekiel Elliott is not slated to play Sunday, the Falcons are still focusing on stopping the run. 

“It’s gets kind frustrating when you see stuff that you kind of missed,” Neal said. “That’s football. You have to learn from it. You have to have tough skin. You have to accept the coaching and move forward.”

The Falcons know they must make a move on Carolina (6-3) and New Orleans (6-2) in the NFC South. They also need a win over Dallas to gain the head-to-head playoff tiebreaker.

“We don’t worry about (the standings),” Neal insisted. “We have to worry about what we’ve got each week, that’s Dallas and that’s what we are focusing on.”

Quinn values turnovers, the kind Neal creates when he lays out a ballcarrier and separates them from the ball. 

“(Quinn) always talks about takeaways,” Neal said. “That’s one that that we are always happy about as a defense. Getting the ball is important. Continuing to harp on that, stress that, is good for us.”

The Falcons hope to contain Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott better than they did Carolina’s Cam Newton, who rushed for 86 yards in the 20-17 loss last week.

“He’s a great player,” Neal said. “He’s a quarterback who can move. He’s mobile and he can throw the balls. I think he’s a great player. I look forward to going against him.”

Neal believes he has more good football left in him this season.

“There is always room to improve,” he said. “I’m continuing to stay true to the process and continuing to grow as a player.”

 


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Falcons

Ravens QB Ryan Mallett didn’t play a down in Week 11, but was flagged and fined
Ravens QB Ryan Mallett didn’t play a down in Week 11, but was flagged and fined

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett found a way to cost his team some yards, and himself some money during their Week 11 win against the Green Bay Packers. During a scuffle in the third quarter, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on the Ravens’ bench for “verbally abusing an official.” The...
Patriots QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski status against Dolphins no longer in doubt
Patriots QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski status against Dolphins no longer in doubt

The New England Patriots will have quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Both players were listed as limited participants at practice on Friday, however their status for Sunday is listed as N/A. Since that is not one of the official status NFL injury designations, they will...
Report: Miami Dolphins QB Jay Cutler out against Patriots
Report: Miami Dolphins QB Jay Cutler out against Patriots

The Miami Dolphins will be taking on the New England Patriots Sunday without quarterback Jay Cutler. He left the Dolphins Week 11 loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a concussion. Cutler has still not been cleared from concussion protocol and Matt Moore will start in his place, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport...
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn: No ACL tear for WR Mike Williams
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn: No ACL tear for WR Mike Williams

The Los Angeles Chargers had an injury scare on Thursday with rookie wide receiver Mike Williams. He went down with a right knee injury during the first quarter of the Chargers’ 28-6 victory against the Dallas Cowboys, and had to be carted off of the field. He was scheduled to have an MRI on Friday. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said...
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster ruled out against the Packers
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster ruled out against the Packers

Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has officially been ruled out for the game against the Green Bay Packers. He has been battling a hamstring issue and just will not be ready to go. “Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster [hamstring] is out Sunday night vs. the Packers,” wrote ESPN’s Adam...
More Stories