A peek inside Keanu Neal’s rehab from Achilles surgery

Credit: Athletix Rehab and Recovery

Falcons safety Keanu Neal performs a workout routine at Athletix Rehab and Recovery to strengthen his right leg following Achilles injury.

Credit: Athletix Rehab and Recovery

If former Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal can make it back to form after suffering a ruptured right Achilles last season, he would provide a major boost to the Falcons’ defense.

A month before the start of training camp, Neal started working with Sharif Tabbah, co-founder of Athletix Rehab and Recovery in Miami.

Neal suffered the injury in the third game of last season against the Indianapolis Colts.

“He had been rehabbing for the most part all year elsewhere and was just kind of coming down to get some final touches on it,” Tabbah told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “When he came to me, his biggest concern was he’d just gotten back some dynamic movement. He was doing position drills and running and things like that, but he was saying, I don’t quite feel like me yet.”

Neal reported to camp July 28 and has taken part in the strength-and-conditioning and walk-through portions of practice. Falcons coach Dan Quinn would not say if Neal will be limited when the team swings into the padded practices of training camp.

“There will be some players who have limited reps or an off-day occasionally just to make sure – just keep hitting the markers of where we’re at,” Quinn said.

Over the offseason, Neal updated his followers on social media.

“These past couple of years have been tough,” Neal wrote. “I try not to look at the negatives. I try to think positive about it. I’ve (had) a lot of opportunities to spend time with my wife, family, friends and groom myself personally. It’s been tough, but it’s been a great time. I feel really good mentally and physically.”

The hard-hitting Neal went to the Pro Bowl in 2017 and was considered the team’s enforcer on defense. If he can make it back, the Falcons immediately improve.

Tabbah and Neal took time to break things down and implemented a total-body approach. He posted Neal’s journey on his instagram account.

“Anything throughout the kinetic chain that might be off and whether it needs to be addressed, whether it’s mobility, strength or range of motion or whatever it might be,” Tabbah said. “Just looking to see a nice balance from one side to the other and then from there addressing the particular area, like in his case, the Achilles.”

Athletix Rehab and Recovery has players from the NFL, NBA, MLB and Olympians on its deep client list.

“What you see a lot in Achilles repairs, especially toward the end, they can functionally be doing a lot of things, running, jumping and all of these things,” Tabbah said. “But they have the knee and the hip and all of these areas that it can be compensating from. Perhaps that calf is not giving you that nice push off and pop that we want to see.

“We always call it getting that pop back. We want to get that explosiveness back.”

Athletix broke down all of Neal’s movements on video. They filmed him working on his backpedal and then trying to explode out of his break. They added some resistance to put more stress on the muscle with the hope of exposing any imbalances.

“We saw a couple of things that we wanted to clean up in the footwork,” Tabbah said. “From there we just worked on the strength.”

Coming out of his break, the work focused on Neal’s acceleration step. Also, Neal had to get to a mental place where he trusted the repair.

“A lot of times coming off an injury, whether it’s a weakness or a subconscious guarding, fear or subconscious fear, there is an element of this to shake off,” Tabbah said. “So we work on a drill, watch it on video and get back to whatever we see on video and put it into use on the field again.”

Each week, Neal and the doctors would go back and look at those first couple of drills on video. They could see the progress over time. The goal was to restore his explosiveness and his plyometrics.

“We were doing a lot of single-leg hopping and jumping and adding bungy resistant (band) in order to overload that Achillies,” Tabbah said. “So, that when we take away all of these forces, and he’s just Keanu running around on the field, it’s that much easier for that Achilles because now we’ve overloaded his calf and Achilles, so when we take it all away, it’s just a little bit easier to move and be explosive.”

Falcons safety Ricardo Allen made it back from an Achilles injury last season. It’s a tough injury to rebound from, especially for defensive backs and wide receivers.

“It’s very dependent on so many factors like how well was the surgery done or how did it come out?” Tabbah said. “How well was the rehab done? How well was the athlete’s diligence during that process, the compliance during that process.”

Neal eventually will have to trust his footwork.

“As a DB, the Achilles is a funny one, because as a DB or receiver, they have the hardest time with an Achilles just because the difference of a step, or one false step could be the difference in making a play or not making a play,” Tabbah said. “Getting there in time for a PBU (pass break-up) or (an interception) or missing it altogether and it’s a completion.

“Versus a running back, he might not have the same pop and acceleration in that first step, but he can get away with being nice and shifty in the hole. A tight end, for example, might not have to accelerate or make as many multi-directional cuts or all of that. Whereas a DB has to backpedal, land and then boom, break forward which is going to completely overload that Achilles. So, they have one of the toughest recoveries from an Achilles.”

So, what’s Tabbah’s expert opinion on whether Neal can make it back to Pro Bowl status?

“There is nothing to worry about,” Tabbah said. “He was already looking really good, and we made some big strides in that last final month. We kind of put the cherry on top, if you will. Just fine-tuning those last little bits that we needed to.”

Neal is still working on the injury.

“We sent him away with some homework and things to continue to work on and continue to improve,” Tabbah said.

Tabbah likes to tell athletes that if they do their rehab correctly, they can make it back better than they were before the injury. The focus on balance and stability and plyometrics through the ankle, working on quick jumps, quick responsive and change of direction versus just doing position drills should help.

“So, I think Keanu is going to come back looking amazing,” Tabbah said. “He looks great, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

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