Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal made his NFL debut in the 45-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday.
Neal, a first-round pick from Florida, played mostly in the team’s nickel defense, while Kemal Ishmael played in the base defense.
Neal suffered a knee injury that required surgery on Aug. 25. He missed the first two games to the regular-season while recuperating.
He made a tackle on the Saints’ first play from scrimmage, when he stopped running back Mark Ingram for a 3-yard gain.
“It was awesome to be able to go back out with my brothers,” said Neal, who was the 17th player taken overall in the 2016 draft. “It was a blessing to play on Monday Night Football and go against one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Neal finished with four tackles and one pass defensed.
“You got to get the jitters out of the way,” Neal said. “Making that first play was good. I was able to play my ball the rest of the game.”
Neal was glad that the Falcons decided to ease him back into the defense.
“They didn’t want to throw me out into the fire and have me play the whole game,” Neal said. “So, I played a little bit of nickel. In the base package, they kept Ishmael in. But our rotation was good. It worked out well for us.”
Neal said his surgically repaired right knee held up well.
“My knee felt good, really good,” Neal said. “At first, I just had to get used to the turf and everything. Overall, it was a good day for it.”