Keanu Neal signed in Dallas this offseason intending to move to weakside linebacker for the Cowboys.
The ex-Atlanta Falcons safety rejoined his former head coach, Dan Quinn, who took over as defensive coordinator in Dallas. The hard-hitting Neal said he doesn’t care about labels. He just wants to hit.
“I don’t categorize myself. I feel I can play safety, linebacker,” Neal said, via ESPN. “Wherever they put me, I’m going to prepare to go out there and play at my best. Growing up I played linebacker in middle school and high school, then we changed the defense and I switched to safety, so I went to college as a safety. But in my heart, I have 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.”
The Cowboys have a glut of linebackers as they transition to Quinn’s new scheme. Along with adding Neal to an LB room that included Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas drafted Micah Parsons in the first round and Jabril Cox in the fifth.
Neal noted the transition includes creeping slightly closer to the line of scrimmage than he played in Atlanta and adding five pounds.
“The first few years and throughout my career, I’ve played in the box,” Neal, who plans to play at 222 pounds, said. “I’ve played down at times, so I kind of have an understanding of the fits and all that stuff. But yeah, I typically play around like 6 yards or so, and coach is trying to get me to bump down to like 5 or 4 1/2. So that adjustment, I’m kind of getting used to that. But it’s definitely a transition.”
Neal benefits from reuniting with Quinn, but changing positions adds its challenges. How well he takes to the transition will go a long way in determining the linebacker rotation this fall.
“I’m just a sponge, taking in what the guys give me,” Neal said.
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