When Dan Quinn was hired to coach the Cowboys defense, there was immediate speculation about which players that he formerly coached may end up on Dallas’ roster. A couple of former Atlanta Falcons that played in the secondary under Quinn were brought in to infuse some talent on that side of the ball. Damontae Kazee was imported to play free safety, the same spot he played in Atlanta.
Keanu Neal, on the other hand, was transformed into a linebacker after playing strong safety for the Falcons. That was thought of as a big transition for Neal, and one that would be scrutinized as training camp unfolded into preseason games. In the end, though, we may have been making too big of a deal of the transition. Listen to what Dan Quinn had to say about it.
Quinn then went on to say that the position actually shouldn’t be all that new to Neal, although he might not have been aware that he was already familiar with his “new” role.
“He’s played a number of the positions when he was in Atlanta,” Quinn explained. “We just tricked him and didn’t call him a linebacker. We said ‘You’re a safety.’ I never told him he was a linebacker, but he was a linebacker on 70 percent of the snaps.”
Neal’s best when playing close to the line of scrimmage. He’s a hitter who can create momentum for the defense with his play. He’s excellent in run pursuit and will be counted on to carry tight ends and running backs in pass coverage. The only real difference for him seems to be that he will be lining up a little closer to the line of scrimmage and not have deep responsibilities.
For Quinn, Neal is doing just fine.
“I’m proud of the work he’s put in,” Quinn said. “He’s very intentional about his improvement and technique. He’s off to an excellent start at linebacker.”
Obviously, the coaching staff feels his impact can be felt more substantially closer to the line of scrimmage, and to Neal’s credit, he was completely on board with the decision.
“He’s just not playing the deep half of the field, which he did some [in Atlanta], but he played down in the box quite a bit so it’s not so far [different] for him,” Quinn said.
There seems to be the change in a nutshell for Neal. He will no longer be asked to drop deep in coverage and the team will utilize his specific set of skills to their fullest.