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RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Ryan Neal understands this isn’t likely to last.
That when he’s healthy, All-Pro Jamal Adams will step back in at strong safety for the Seahawks.
But the impression Neal has made thus far makes it clear he’ll have a major role in Seattle’s defense even after Adams returns.
“What a great addition to this opportunity and to this defense to come in and do what he’s been doing,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He brings a lot with him. It’s not just athleticism. It’s the smarts, and his attitude and his character and all of that that’s added to it.”
Neal will make his second start Sunday night when the Seahawks host the Vikings. For now, he’s a placeholder, filling in while Adams recovers from a groin injury that will keep him out until after Seattle’s bye next week.
When Seattle signed Neal to its practice squad in September 2019, the team was enamored of his versatility. Neal was a safety coming out of college, but he made the switch to cornerback while on the practice squad with Atlanta in 2018. His aggressive playing style and 6-foot-3 frame fit the mold of what Seattle wants in its cornerbacks. They also saw his versatility being useful on special teams.
Neal was on the active roster for three games last season but again started this year on the practice squad. He was one of two players elevated to the active roster for Seattle’s Week 3 game against Dallas after backup safety Lano Hill injured his back. The move proved to be vitally important. When Adams went down with an injury in the fourth quarter, it was Neal who stepped in and made the game-saving interception in the end zone on the Cowboys' final drive.
Last week against Miami, Neal made his first start since he was in college at Southern Illinois. He played all 71 snaps, had six tackles and grabbed his second interception in two games.
He was noticed and that’s exactly what he was hoping for.
“It was all fun,” Neal said. “Because I’m going through the process of instead of being the look guy, now I’m the guy taking the actual reps. I’m like, ‘OK, here we go,’ ... because this is the actual game plan and all that. So it was actually pretty fun for the first time going through that.”
While Neal has always looked for advice from his brother Mike — a former six-year vet with Green Bay -- he received some extra coaching recently. Former Seattle safety Kam Chancellor reached out via Carroll after the game against Dallas and wanted to talk with the young safety. Neal said Chancellor went through his practice and game film and was sending him tips.
“Coming up through the football world everybody watched the Legion of Boom,” Neal said. “It was like, ‘This is Kam Chancellor. This is the guy.’ And for me to play in similar defenses that he played in, it was the best thing ever for him to reach out and tell me exactly how he saw it."
Neal understands this week against the Vikings could be his last start for a while. Carroll said Friday that Adams should be able to return following the bye when Seattle travels to Arizona on Oct. 25.
“Like I told Jamal, ‘I’m here to hold it down until you’re ready to come back,’” Neal said. “I feel like my team is counting on me and I have to bring my best and make sure I have all my boxes checked off.”
NOTES: Adams is the only player Seattle has listed as out for Sunday’s game. CB Quinton Dunbar (knee) should return after missing the past two games and there is a chance LB Jordyn Brooks (knee) may be available despite a knee sprain suffered against Dallas. Dunbar and Brooks are listed as questionable.
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