Neal decided to become more educated about the exercises that stress the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility and graceful stretching.
“I could tell that they were really stretching, but I wasn’t really looking that deep into it,” Neal said. “I just saw it. After doing it, I realized that it makes a difference.”
Now, Neal is all in.
“With me, personally, I do a lot of stuff to strengthen my inner thighs,” Neal said. “That’s something that as athletes we don’t do a lot of. There is a lot of outside work on big muscles, but working those small intricate muscles, it doesn’t happen too often. Doing that and a lot of twisting, just to loosen up my back because we are constantly running and pounding. It’s elongating it.”
Neal has been pleased with his early results.
“I feel the difference with it,” Neal said. “It’s helped me. I feel more upright. (My) back feels a little bit looser.”
Neal, who was the Falcons’ first-round pick (17th overall) in the 2016 draft, believes that he can make major strides in 2017. He has a better understanding of the defense and he plans to expand his game.
“Playing more in the deep part of the field and getting a better feel for that,” Neal said.
He has a plan for that, too.
“A few drills and focusing on reading the quarterback and going from there,” Neal said.
With the NFL considering more ejections for illegal hits, Neal knows he must strike in the proper position.
“Leverage tackling is another thing I’m focusing on,” Neal said. “Just step-kicking and man-to-man. I try not to do too many things at once. I try to focus on a few things and just really go from there.”
Neal and linebackers Deion Jones and DeVondre Campbell all started as rookies. If they can make a jump in their play from the first year to the second, the Falcons’ defense will have a chance to improved dramatically.
They all look to the jump that linebacker Vic Beasley and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett made from their rookie seasons to their second seasons. Beasley, who went from four to 15.5 sacks, was named the PFWA’s most improved player.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn has told the players to focus on one or two things to improve on this offseason.
“I don’t really have a top one, I have two,” Neal said. “Getting a better understanding of the defense to where I’m completely comfortable with what everybody is doing so I can be more vocal during the season. Also, middle-field work. The deep part of the field. Getting a better feel for that.”
Neal is aware that the rise of Beasley and Jarrett started with their offseason work in 2016.
“The second year compared to the first is always a big difference,” Neal said. “You have a better understanding of the defense. You can play faster and with more confidence. You saw it in a few guys last year. So, I’m looking forward to this year and Vic, Grady and all those guys are going to continue improve. I’m excited.”
In addition to his new exercises, Neal plans to spend some time working with Seattle safety Kam Chancellor in Virginia. The two worked out together last summer.
“I think it will be great to get back up there and get after it with him,” Neal said. “He’s a great dude. He’s a great dude to be around.”
Falcons safety Keanu Neal, who made the PFWA's all-rookie team, is doing Pilates and Yoga this offseason. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter