The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Football: Neal adapts to hybrid defensive position

Bill Brink | Friday, November 7, 2008

Kerry Neal wants to be the best defensive end-linebacker hybrid player there is.

What exactly does that mean?

“Having offensive linemen fear me,” he said.

Neal, a sophomore linebacker, plays an interesting role in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense. He usually lines up with his hand on the ground as a lineman, although occasionally he’ll drop back into pass coverage.

“You’re a linebacker but you’re working out with the linemen in practice,” he said. “It’s back and fourth. You’re down there with the linemen pretty much.”

But back to being feared. Neal wants to intimidate opposing offenses.

“Just being a dominant player, the most disruptive player,” he said. “Having linemen jump offsides because of my speed and stuff like that.”

He’s got the athleticism to do it.

“He’s very athletic and he has not played a lot,” Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. “This is his second year playing, so you would like to think he has a lot of room to grow still because of his athleticism.”

Neal has steadily grown since high school, when he once played safety as a 170-pound freshman. Now, he said he’s up around 250.

Neal has five tackles this season, three of them for a loss. He also has an interception and a sack. He said he’s still learning the game, but that he feels much more comfortable. Freshman year, he said, he sometimes didn’t know his role on the field. The additional playing time, he said, helped him learn his position.

“I think the game is really coming to me,” he said. “I have to just keep working hard. It helped a lot. I’m not nervous anymore out there. I feel like I’m supposed to be out there.”

To continue to improve, he said, he pays great attention to his coaches and watches a good deal of tape.

“Staying constantly in the film room,” he said. “Learning the game, learning the calls, learning the defense.

“Instead of just being out there on third-and- long, that type of situation, now I can go out there and stop the run.”

Limiting Boston College’s two-back ground game will challenge the Irish defense. At his position, Neal said, the best way to limit the run is to follow his procedures based on the defensive play called.

“If I got a gap I need to be in, be in that gap,” he said. “If I have a play coming my way, make that play.”

Brown said successful defensive players have that ability to make plays, whether or not the odds are in their favor.

“I would just like for all of our players on defense, when you have a chance to make plays, you make them,” Brown said. “And if you’re in an area to make a special play or a ‘big’ play, then you make them. Sometimes that’s unrealistic because the other guys will win too.”

Neal and the rest of the defense have an additional challenge ahead of them in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Eagles quarterback Chris Crane can run the ball if need be, which the defense will have to take into account.

“You just got to be aware. If we have good coverage on him, he’s going to take off,” Neal said.

Neal’s learning process is nowhere near complete. He can’t estimate himself how far he can go, but Brown said his future looks bright.

“He’s still learning the college game,” Brown said. “He’ll get better. He’ll definitely get better.”