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Alabama Football Impact Players

Evan Neal has found his groove, as Alabama’s OL is hitting its stride

Evan Neal in his stance for 2019 game versus South Carolina
Cedric Mason - Touchdown Alabama Magazine

The surge at running back from Najee Harris and Brian Robinson in the last four weeks can be credited to the play of Alabama’s offensive line – especially when Nick Saban made the choice to start both Landon Dickerson and Deonte Brown.

While the tandem at center and right guard has excelled, a five-star freshman is finding his groove at left guard and is playing very well. 

An imposing presence, Evan Neal arrived from Florida at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds. 

He enrolled back in January and people were blown away by his sheer athleticism, despite his size.

This was the same person that worked linebacker, Nakobe Dean in Nike’s “The Opening” competition, so Crimson Tide fan knew it was getting an elite pass protector in Neal. 

RELATED: Alabama QB Mac Jones is the ‘top dog’ this week, according to Nick Saban

After some rough moments against Duke to start the year, the product from IMG Academy has turned in quality work in the last six games.

Neal has not allowed a sack, quarterback pressure or quarterback hit, while clearing the way for three 100-yard rushers. He’s helped Tua Tagovailoa account for at least 300 yards passing in three matchups – including a career day of 444 passing yards with five touchdowns versus South Carolina in a 47-23 win for Alabama on the road.  

Neal followed up his efforts two weeks later, in assisting the junior quarterback to a school-record six scoring tosses in a meeting with Mississippi. Tagovailoa would also run for a touchdown, giving him seven in all – which was another single-game record.  

With the exception of he and Tagovailoa getting hurt against Tennessee, Neal contributed to an offense that recorded 400-plus yards in six games. The Crimson Tide has one of the nation’s best scoring, total and passing offenses and according to Alex Leatherwood, the left tackle said Neal has grown in his knowledge of the system. Leatherwood spoke to local reporters on Tuesday. 

“He’s now understanding defenses and what they are trying to do,” Leatherwood said of Neal.

“His technique has made significant improvement since spring ball. You can just tell in playing next to him that he’s really smart.” 

If there is one person who understands Neal, it is Leatherwood. 

A fellow Floridian, Leatherwood was a five-star in the 2017 class from Booker T. Washington High School.

The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder was primarily an offensive tackle, yet he sacrificed and played at right guard for the team last year.

He told reporters that he learned to create success on the interior by watching guys at his position in the National Football League.  

Leatherwood gave this advice to Neal and it is paying off.  

On Wednesday, Nick Saban chimed in on his freshman and said the progression of Neal has grown tremendously. 

“I think it has been a steady progression, from camp to each game, that he has gotten better,” Saban said of Neal. “I think his knowledge and experience has improved, his confidence has grown, I think he plays faster, makes less mental errors and he executes more efficiently and hopefully he can continue to do that throughout the rest of the year.” 

Neal will have the challenge of trying to create opportunities for Mac Jones and Alabama’s running game versus a veteran defensive front for Arkansas.

The Razorbacks have four seniors on its defensive line – headlined by McTelvin Agim – and a senior at middle linebacker in De’Jon Harris.  

A strong outing from Neal would not only push the Tide to victory, but it also gives the line confidence in helping both Tagovailoa and Jones have success. 

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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