Giants’ Evan Neal gets major praise as he continues difficult transition: ‘Has the it factor’

Giants’ Evan Neal gets major praise as he continues difficult transition: ‘Has the it factor’

If it was difficult for great left tackles Jonathan Ogden and Tony Boselli to suddenly do everything the opposite of what felt comfortable, surely NFL rookie Evan Neal could be forgiven for struggling with making a big change.

Willie Anderson showed up to train Neal in March with a first-person account to share from playing in four Pro Bowls.

Anderson is sure that not everyone understands the magnitude of adaptation Neal faced moving from left tackle at Alabama in 2021 to right tackle for the Giants last season.

“I’ve seen Hall of Famers go from left tackle to right tackle and get their a– whooped,” Anderson told The Post. “It’s not because they are terrible players. When you change from left to right, you change the part of your brain that commands you to be stronger on your dominant leg and your inside arm. It throws guys off because it doesn’t feel stable.”

With the blessing of Giants offensive line coach Bobby Johnson — who Anderson credits for putting players’ needs above any ego — Anderson and Neal worked to narrow his footwork.

Evan Neal (73) blocks against the Eagles on Dec. 11, 2022.
Evan Neal (73) blocks against the Eagles on Dec. 11, 2022.AP

Neal admitted that he felt uncomfortable in his right tackle stance.

“He was so staggered,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Let’s try to get you comfortable — not a low stance, but a loaded stance where we can get that big body exploding but being balanced on contact.’ A lot of big, tall guys get too wide. I think he spent his whole rookie year trying to figure out how to change his dominant leg to the right side.”

The 6-foot-7, 350-pound Neal allowed 52 pressures (sixth-most in the NFL) and five sacks in 13 starts as a rookie.

He missed four games with a sprained left knee.

“You’ve got to be functional in your stance and be able to move efficiently,” Neal said. “That’s what we were trying to find — a place that I’m quick out of, that’s comfortable for me, a stance that I can repeat rep after rep after rep.”

Anderson, an independent skills trainer for many high-caliber offensive linemen, met Neal when the latter was an elite high school football recruit attending a Nike camp and the two stayed in touch.

He sensed initially what he since has confirmed by seeing Neal face adversity.

“He admitted that he had a rough rookie year in some spots: Name me the offensive lineman who didn’t,” Anderson said. “He has the ‘it’ factor in that he wants to figure out how to get over the hump. Every good lineman I’ve known who’s struggled but has the will to want to be good, they figure it out. He has self-pride inside him.”

Willie Anderson while with the Bengals as a player
Willie Anderson while with the Bengals as a player Getty Images

With Daniel Jones’ new $40-million-per-year contract, the expectation goes up for the quarterback.

So does the pressure on his bodyguards.

“There is a jump expected from a guy in his position in Year 2,” Anderson said, “and he understands what’s at stake for him and the Giants with his play.”

A case could be made for Neal’s play as one of the season’s three biggest X factors.

If he makes close to the same drastic leap that left tackle Andrew Thomas did in his second season, the Giants could boast a formidable offensive line for the first time in a decade.

“I’m open to change,” Neal said. “In this league, you’ve got to be able to adapt. I’ve done a lot of things that work for me in the past. I’ve done things that haven’t worked so well. This is just another one of those things — trying something new, just seeing how I can get better.”

Anderson told Neal about how he showed up overweight as a Bengals rookie and struggled in the great Anthony Munoz’s shadow.

It was a slow build to an All-Pro 13-year career.

“I’m looking forward to the middle of the season and the end of the season for the light to really come on,” Anderson said. “Him being a big cat mauling people. We saw it at Alabama the last two years because he was playing confident. When that switch turns on, it’s hard to turn off.”

Anderson expects to work with Neal again this month, after the youngster finishes testing his new stance in OTAs and minicamp.

“Once Kayvon Thibodeaux is rushing you in practice, you know if it’s working or not,” Anderson said. “It’s going to take some time, but the guy has dominated on every level he has been on.”

Evan Neal walks off the field following the Giants' season-ending loss to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Evan Neal walks off the field following the Giants’ season-ending loss to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs.Corey Sipkin

Neal often downplayed the impact of a position change and an injury as a rookie.

No excuses, he believed.

“Battled with some things, whether it be injuries, playing through bad games,” Neal said. “I just like the way that I was able to be resilient through it all, finish the year strong, didn’t complain or anything. Gave it everything that I had. I was really proud of that.”