It was a somber setting in the Falcons locker room as the news spread that starting strong safety Keanu Neal would be out for the remainder of the season on Monday.
Neal went down in the last minute of the second quarter with a torn left Achilles in the 27-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Neal immediately knew that he was injured. He took off his helmet and slammed it to the turf in angst before being carted off the field.
“I’m heartbroken for him,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on Monday. “I love the guy. We’ll miss him tremendously.”
» STEVE HUMMER: Neal’s injury should leave impression
For the second straight season, Neal was knocked out by an injury. Last season, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the opener against Philadelphia.
“He’ll bounce back, but I know how hard he worked to get here,” Quinn said.
The Falcons plan to have players in for tryouts on Tuesday and will add a safety.
“We’ll look at all of the options,” Quinn said. “At strong safety, (Kemal Ishmael) will certainly have a role in that. But we’ll look at all options available to us. The physicality that we need down by the line of scrimmage, that’s an important part, that’s an important role of what our strong safety does.”
In addition to Ishmael and Ricardo Allen, the Falcons have safety Sharrod Neasman on the 53-man roster.
“It definitely hurts with him and losing J.J. (Wilcox) early on, too,” Quinn said. “Those were two of the guys that we thought would play down by the line of scrimmage the most.”
Ishmael was drafted as a safety in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Central Florida. He was moved to linebacker by Quinn’s staff in 2016. When Wilcox was injured early in training camp, Ishmael was moved back to safety.
“We’re fortunate that Ish has experience doing that,” Quinn said. “He’s an excellent tackler, but it’s more than a one person job. We’re going to work some people out. We’re looking at all options in this space.”
Quinn also noted that Chris Cooper and Jamal Carter are safeties on the practice squad.
Falcons safety Ricardo Allen suffered a torn Achilles last season. He knows about the lengthy rehabilitation.
“It’s just some times that the injury bug wants to pick on you,” Allen said. “There is nothing that you can do. Your Achilles can just pop up on you. You have no (warning). You’re not tight. Your body is not tired. It just comes out of the blue.”
Allen and Neal rehabbed together last season.
“I’m here for him, whatever he needs,” Allen said. “I know it’s going to be a long journey. He understands the journey. He understands the grind. I just told him that I’ve got his back.”
The team took the news hard.
“That’s actually heart breaking and unfortunate,” linebacker DeVondre Campbell said. “Two season-ending injuries back-to-back. I feel for him. I can’t even say that I know what it feels like. The only thing I can do is just pray for him and hopefully he comes out of the top of it.”
Neal, who went to the Pro Bowl after 2017 season, was the defense’s top enforcer.
“It’ affects us in a major way,” Campbell said. “He’s a huge part of our team. He’s an enforcer. His style of play is everything we represent as a defense. So, for us to lose him in the way we did, it hurts.”
Allen believes that he’s 100 percent recovered from his Achilles injury.
“It’s a daily thing,” Allen said. “It’s never fully over. It never fully feels the same as before. It’s thicker than it used to be, so I have a little bit of stiffness in it. But the new normal, I do feel like I’m 100 percent. I don’t feel overly sore. I don’t get sore after games.”
Allen knows there will be some doubt in Neal’s mind after surgery and during the rehab process.
“You keep going through these injuries, you have to ask yourself, like, is it really worth it,” Allen said. “What is it worth?”
Also, running backs Ito Smith and Kenjon Barner are the league’s concussion protocol program. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett suffered a toe injury, but is expected back by the end of the week.
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