Multiple Homecomings For Keanu Neal

May 4th, 2022

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The Sage Of Tampa Bay Sports

Just when Jordan Whitehead was coming on strong as an enforcer in the Buc secondary, he hit the bricks.

Say hello to the new thumper, Keanu Neal.

Whitehead has taken his talents to the Meadowlands, where Jets head coach Robert Saleh plans to capitalize on the aggression Whitehead controlled so well for Tampa Bay last season. Buc safeties coach Nick Rapone offers nothing but praise for Whitehead, predicting he’ll be an impact player for the Jets in more ways than one.

New Bucs safety Keanu Neal

So here comes Neal, trying to resurrect his NFL career at the age of 26. He’ll duke it out at strong safety against Mike Edwards in training camp and guess who will be watching his every move?

Former NFL safety Todd Bowles.

Edwards has superior ball skills but his tackling technique remains a work in progress after three seasons under the tutelage of Rapone and Bowles.

Neal has never been thought of as a ballhawk, but he loves to hit and this defense could use a jolt of physicality – especially with Whitehead moving on.

Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul remain on the free-agent market, so Neal has an opportunity to emerge as a fan favorite who relishes contact. Who else is there at the moment … besides Vita Vea?

Will Gholston, Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Devin White and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka rely on finesse and quickness. We’ll see what top draft pick Logan Hall brings to the table.

Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting aren’t known for their stout run defense. Third-year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is a form tackler who relies on textbook technique.

Neal craves collisions. He wants anyone with the audacity to venture into his area to remember him.

In five years with Atlanta, Neal developed a reputation as one of the league’s most physical safeties. The 17th pick in the 2016 draft, he forced five fumbles as a rookie and in his first NFL playoff game, he posted 11 tackles against Seattle.

Less than a month later, he was all over the field in the Super Bowl against Tom Brady’s Patriots, leading all players with 13 stops even as New England staged an unforgettable comeback.

What Neal couldn’t defend against were a pair of devastating injuries one year apart. A torn ACL in the 2018 opener cost him one season and an Achilles tear in Week 3 wrecked the following season. He played well in 2020 but Atlanta let him go as a free agent and he followed his former Falcon head coach Dan Quinn to Dallas.

Bad Move

Quinn, who should have known better, came up with the brilliant idea of shifting Neal from safety to linebacker. Neal added weight and lost effectiveness, to the point the Cowboys didn’t re-sign him this spring.

Neal has adapted well after his days as a Gators great.

At first, Neal publicly welcomed the change in Big D.

“Growing up, I played linebacker in middle school and high school, then we changed the defense and I switched to safety,” Neal said a year ago. “So I went to college as a safety. But in my heart, I’ve been a linebacker for a while. As time went on I moved to safety. I still have an understanding of what everything entails with playing linebacker.”

What else was he going to say?

Quinn was running the defense and Neal wasn’t about to resist the move, at least publicly. He had a lot to prove on a new team, so he gave the Cowboys his best shot. It didn’t work out.

The Bucs have no intentions of playing Neal at linebacker. The former Gator standout is back in his home state and back in his natural habitat.

Given the NFL’s focus on player safety, it’s far more difficult to play the enforcer role John Lynch embraced so well in Tampa. But Neal knows his strengths and weaknesses. He’s never going to be Ed Reed, but the Keanu Neal who topped 100 tackles in each of his three full seasons with the Falcons can help this team win.

An effective season can also earn Neal a far more lucrative contract than the $1.1 million deal in base salary he agreed to a month ago.

His under-the-radar signing could pay big dividends for a defense looking to regain its swagger.

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12 Responses to “Multiple Homecomings For Keanu Neal”

  1. Goatfarmer Says:

    Yes! I loved this addition and the Logan Ryan signing. In addition to bringing back CD and having Dean, SMB, Edwards, and AWJr, I never got the angst about the secondary from a capabilities standpoint. I think Todd needs to simplify what he asks them to do so they actually can understand and execute their assignments, and teach them to tackle better. They’ll be fine as long as the pass rush doesn’t totally suck.

  2. Defense Rules Says:

    Excellent analysis Sage. I’m rooting for Keanu to have a big year.

  3. Buccos Says:

    I remember going to a game against the Falcons and couldn’t help but watch this player all the time on Atlantas defense. He was a badass enforcer and he looked like he was going to break some guys in half. Nice pickup by the Bucs. I thought it was a mistake to let Whitehead go but this guy could make me forget all about him. A real thumper!

  4. Texas Buc 1976 Says:

    The Sage is spot on, bring the a$$ whooping back to our defense

  5. Bucsfan4ever Says:

    Can he stay healthy?

  6. Brandon Says:

    He’s a limited athlete and if he somehow wins the starting job, we will be in trouble. He wasn’t fast or a great athlete BEFORE tearing his ACL and achilles. He’s only going to be worse. Mike Edwards is the best coverage safety we have by far. I’m not sure of their insistence on Winfield being a FS when he seems better closer to the LOS while Edwards is best in space. Winfield should be SS and Edwards at FS… and Neal being the 5th S/LB.

  7. gbobucsfan Says:

    “The former Gator standout is back in his home state and back in his natural habitat.”

    The Sage with another classic line!

  8. firethecannons Says:

    we need better linebacker depth otherwise he will play linebacker for us

  9. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    A good player to pick up…..a good place for Neal to rebound……I like it.

  10. ClwJB Says:

    Good replacement for whiteheads tackling prowess

    But I like Edwards ballhawking much better in the pass game

    I expect a platoon at SS with Winfield not coming off the field

  11. 1#bucsfan Says:

    Still to this day John lynch is my all time favorite player. The fear he struck into players that dared to enter his zone was pure amazement. Miss those days. I understand you gotta make the game safer but how fun was it to watch him n other get their clocked cleaned. Good luck Neal n bring the pain.

  12. Bucsfan13 Says:

    Our secondary sucks! The Saints secondary is the real deal. No one can contend with those guys.