In a bold move to strengthen the cohesion of the New York Giants' offensive line, Evan Neal, the team's stalwart right tackle, orchestrated a thrilling and unorthodox bonding experience this offseason.
Embracing the wild, Neal invited his teammates to join him on an unforgettable hunting trip, building on the strong foundation of a strong closing stretch to the 2022 campaign that featured the team's first postseason win in over a decade.
"I had the whole offensive line group down to my camp in Florida," Neal told FanBuzz during a lengthy interview on the eve of Giants training camp opening. "We were hunting Florida wild feral hogs, we were night-vision shooting on these huge buggies. So, we had the rifles with the night-vision scopes, some of us would hop off with the dogs and get them. We ended up getting 24 hogs.
"It was great team chemistry and camaraderie. Any unit that I've been a part of, the offensive line is always the most tight-knit group on the team. So, I feel like that's going to translate to our group and on the field."
Neal hopes that his excursion with his teammates will have the kind of transformational affect on the offensive line as a whole as what he's experienced following an offseason of intense training in Texas, ahead of the 2023 campaign.
"I've just been working out and grinding," Neal said. "I've been focusing on my diet a bit more, it's just a testament to the hard work that I've been putting in.
"I think the main thing is that when I was in Dallas training, I hired a chef. He's been doing a great job of making sure that I've been eating the right things. So, just eating right, in addition to me putting the work in, that's the result I got."
Improving his nutrition was a major point of emphasis for Neal, who arrives in East Rutherford for his second season, weighing in at 345 pounds, shedding roughly 15 pounds from a year ago, while adding shredded muscle.
Neal credits his chef's selection of oatmeal and fruit after his first workout, "extra large" wings and a chop salad at lunch, and some combination of lamb, rotisserie chicken, asparagus, carrots, and broccoli for "keeping lean."
"It's all about going out to perform well," Neal says, of his offseason motivation. "And helping the team. I've been a competitor for a long time. I feel like that's all been a part of my process."
As Neal prepares for his second NFL season, intent on building on a dominant final eight weeks of his rookie season in which he only allowed 2.0 sacks down the closing stretch, the 22-year-old sat down with FanBuzz to give a peak behind the curtain of why he's so optimistic about the Giants' 2023 outlook, Daniel Jones' continued development as a franchise quarterback, what makes Brian Daboll a coach players want to run through the wall for, and much more.
Q&A With Giants Tackle Evan Neal
FanBuzz: As the right tackle, you play a huge role in keeping Daniel Jones upright, in the success of the offense ... Up until you and Andrew Thomas arrived, the Giants' offensive line was always kind of maligned, kind of a question mark. But, Andrew Thomas makes second-team All-Pro, you finished strong as a rookie, got jacked during the offseason, what's it been like in that offensive line room? Seems like you guys have really turned a corner.
Evan Neal:"It all boils down to our chemistry. We have great chemistry in that room. We all know what makes each other tick. We know how to push each other. We hold each other accountable. Most importantly, we all get along, especially off the field."
Andrew Thomas and you are now the bookends. He's an All-Pro, and it seems like the Giants are betting big on you guys anchoring that line for years to come. What makes Andrew Thomas special, and has there been anything you've been able to pick up from your time together to incorporate into your skill-set to take your game to new heights?
"On the field, Andrew is a technician. He's a great pass-protector. He has great feet. He's good with his hands. He can bend. He can move, and all of that. But, off the field, when it comes to intangibles, he's a hard worker. He doesn't really say much, but he speaks with his actions. I admire the heck out of him. I'm just excited to be that bookend on the other side of him, and just continue to grow as a player."
How do you guys as an offensive line take that next step to the next level, as a group, to be in that conversation with teams like the Eagles, the Cowboys, the Browns as one of the top lines in the league?
"It's all about taking it one game at a time. That's how I look at it. Going out there, busting our ass every single day. I feel like getting better week-to-week, making small improvements, every week, that's what's going to get us there.
"No great empire is built overnight, and I feel like that's going to be the same with our offensive line. We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of great guys, and I feel like week-to-week this year, we have a really good chance to be a special group."
What have you seen from Daniel Jones, and what's been the biggest difference in him as a quarterback?
"Since I've been there, I feel like Daniel Jones has made tremendous growth. I feel like he gels better with this coaching staff. Now, obviously, I wasn't here for the previous staff to see how he was then, but I feel like him and Brian Daboll have great chemistry, and a great relationship.
"I feel like it's a better structure for him. Daniel's a hard worker. That's what he's always been. And, I feel like his hard work has paid off."
Has there been anything that you've seen from Daniel behind the scenes, on the practice field, or in the weight room that makes you confident he'll be even better this year?
"One thing I can say, Daniel is a hard worker. Even when I came in here last year, I've seen him in the weight room long after hours just working on something by himself. And, I feel like Daniel's work ethic alone is going to translate onto the football field.
"That's the main thing with Daniel, he's a worker. He's a tough guy. He's a leader. I'm just excited to go out there and ball with him."
I have to ask ... Who has been the toughest, most dominant pass-rusher you've faced so far in your career?
"In the NFC East, you have a lot of great pass-rushers. But, honestly, I can say the guys I can say were the best are DeMarcus Lawrence and Haason Reddick. I see those guys twice a year."
You've have gone through the NFC East once already. You've seen DeMarcus Lawrence, Haason Reddick, Micah Parsons, Montez Sweat down in Washington ... What can you take from those games a year ago against those guys, so you're even better in those matchups in 2023?
"I like to go back and watch the film, see the things that I did ... Maybe I had a good rep against those guys, or maybe I had a bad rep, but it's all about getting better. I feel like getting that kind of in-game experience is only going to add to my experience throughout the duration of my career.
"I feel like there's no better way to learn, than learning during live action. I was fortunate to play a lot of snaps last year, get a lot of reps against a lot of great talent, so, I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like, so I can go out there and go at it with those cats again."
I'm sure self-scouting has to be huge, but your guys' coaching staff got a lot of accolades — and deservedly so last year. What makes Brian Daboll such a great coach? It seems like you guys would really run through a wall for him last year.
"Man, Dabes, he's a true definition of a players' coach. He definitely wants what's best for his guys. He's a hard-nosed coach whenever — really all the time, he's a hard-nosed coach, but I feel like you have to be. He just wants to get the best out of us.
"But, he's definitely a players' coach. He's always looking out for us. He coaches us hard, but at the same time, he takes care of us. The biggest thing is, he wants everyone to go into that locker room and be themselves, throughout the building. That's one of his main mantras.
"I feel like that's adding to the chemistry and the culture that we're trying to build. I think it's great, and I really enjoy playing for coach Daboll."
For you, what's the biggest key to becoming the best version of Evan Neal?
"Just showing up every day. Going to work and getting better every single day. I feel like there's no special formula. There's no special sauce. It's about going in and being a blue collar worker and getting better week-to-week."
What are your goals, personally? Everyone talks about wanting to win the Super Bowl, but what is it that's driving you this season? If we had this conversation in January or February, what would it be that you could look back on and say you had a successful season if 'blank' happened?
"A big goal for me personally is to go out there and be the best that I can be. If I can be at my best, I feel like a lot of great things are going to come. Obviously, I want to go to the Pro Bowl, be an All-Pro, what player doesn't want to do that? But, I feel like what I do week-to-week and day-by-day is going to get me there.
"That's down the line. But, it's going out there, locking down the right side, helping the offense get better, and ultimately winning games. Personal awards, yeah, they're great. But, I want to win the Super Bowl. I want to win games. If the personal accolades come along with that, that will add to it all and really be the icing on the cake."
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