When Saquon Barkley got a full, in-person look at Evan Neal, his reaction was something akin to awe.
“Oh my God, who is that?” he said, according to published reports. The running back later marveled at the idea of having the Alabama tackle and seventh overall pick blocking for him.
When Neal heard about that Saturday, on Day 2 of the Giants’ rookie minicamp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, he barked out a laugh.
“I am a big dude,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that most people that see me have that same reaction, so that’s pretty cool.”
“Big dude’’ is a pretty grand understatement. Neal is 6-7, 350 pounds but looks leaner than that. The 21-year-old is known to be explosive, disciplined, excellent at pass protection and a strong run blocker.
He is, on paper, everything a historically porous Giants offensive line could want, and between him, Andrew Thomas, the signings of Mark Glowinski and Jon Feliciano and the drafting of Joshua Ezeudu in the third round, it’s abundantly clear that general manager Joe Schoen is intent on addressing the unit.
No wonder. The offensive line sometimes has been blamed for hindering Daniel Jones’ progress, and it’s hard not to look at Barkley, even with all of his injuries, and wonder how much better he could be if he received better blocking.
Neal said he’s looking forward to interacting with both come Monday, when veterans report to camp, and already has had interactions with his quarterback.
“I’m just excited to go out there and do my best to help the team, for sure,” he said. “Got a chance to shake Daniel’s hand. He’s a pretty cool guy. I don’t think I have met Saquon yet, so I’m just excited to continue to just build a relationship with those guys and just help the team.”
He’ll most likely be doing that at right tackle, where he’s been practicing during rookie camp. He predominantly played left tackle in his final season at Alabama — 1,071 snaps — but played 765 snaps at right tackle the year before.
I’m “really just trying to make sure [of] my stance and my set, you know, being on the left side, really just transitioning everything back over to the right,” Neal said. “That’s pretty much what it is.”
His size, backed by his athleticism, make him an immediate presence, rookie or not, coach Brian Daboll said.
“He’s a big man, so there’s not going to be a ton of people that are bigger than him,” he said, adding that just because the physical gifts are there doesn’t mean he’s fully formed.
“The athleticism of the players that he’s going to have to face, the movement up front that he’s going to get to, the quickness that some of these guys have and ultimately the experience — every rookie has to go through it,” he said.
“You’re experienced playing football. You’re just not experienced playing in the National Football League. There’s a lot of things that he’s going to have to learn and keep building on, but I think he’s a mature young guy. He’s played a lot of different spots and I think that will help him, too, in terms of how he sees it. When you are a rookie, you have a long way to go, really with everything.”
Still, it’s easy to understand Barkley’s enthusiasm back when he saw Neal at the United Way of New York’s Gridiron Gala early this month.
“He’s a physical specimen,” Barkley said then as he looked forward to the lanes someone that big can open for him. “I’m excited, especially selfishly as a running back, when you get a 6-7, 350-pound lineman helping you out — but not just myself, the quarterback, too, and our offense in general.”
Excitement about the Giants’ offensive line? That’s something we haven’t seen much around these parts lately.