The NY Giants defeated the New England Patriots in their first preseason game, but all eyes were on quarterback Daniel Jones, the team’s promising young core and players firmly on the roster bubble; not the scoreboard.
While Jones is under the biggest microscope during camp and the preseason, first-round picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal are close behind. While Thibodeaux and Neal are viewed as long-term building blocks, they’re expected to make an immediate impact on winning due to their hype coming out of college.
Like any rookies, however, it’s reasonable to assume Thibodeaux and Neal will experience growing pains as rookies.
Through one preseason game — the Giants will go to battle against the Bengals Sunday night — Thibodeaux has the edge on Neal in terms of performance.
While Thibodeaux wasn’t credited with a pressure vs New England, the former Oregon standout created headaches for the Pats’ offensive line. Neal, on the other hand, was sturdy against the run but took his lumps in pass protection.
Neal’s up-and-down preseason debut prompted former NFL defensive lineman Chris Long to criticize the promising rookie’s technique.
Giants rookie Evan Neal brushed off criticism after his rough preseason debut.
“It’s the first preseason game, but I thought Evan Neal was top-heavy. I was worried, after watching him, about his ability to anchor a bull [rush] without leaning forward and getting pulled by,” Long said.
Sure, it wasn’t a picture-perfect debut for Neal, but maybe wait until the regular season to offer a damning assessment of his build? As a high first-round pick, Neal understands he’s going to be critiqued on a game-by-game basis. At the same time, though, the Alabama product isn’t listening to the outside noise.
"“I don’t really listen to that,” Neal said of his critics. “I’m definitely not a finished product, but I’m getting better and better every day. I belong here, I belong in this league, and like I say, I’m just going to take it day by day.“I like to listen to the opinions that matter.”“I’m going to win reps; I’m going to lose reps. That’s all a part of it. The preseason games and everything and so forth are just extra experiences that I’m going to get under my belt, and I’m going to learn from all those mistakes and learn from the things that I need to get better at.”"
This is a perfect mindset for Neal. No reason to get caught up in the opinions. Sports media has become a hot-take and reactionary business, so a couple of wonky reps — even in a preseason debut — are going to get scrutinized given his draft status, position and the fact that he plays for a flagship franchise.
You know what? Keep the criticism coming. Neal clearly feeds off of it and is going to use it as motivation. A couple harsh reviews after his first preseason game are all part of the process. Who knows? By this time Monday morning the 21-year-old tackle could find himself dubbed as one of Week 2’s most impressive rookie performers.