RENTON — There’s an awful lot of new things suddenly happening for Seahawks safety Ryan Neal.
Two Sundays ago, he got his first NFL snaps on defense and his first interception, clinching Seattle’s win against Dallas with six seconds left.
Last Sunday, he got his first career NFL start at Miami in place of the injured Jamal Adams, getting another interception and playing every snap as the Seahawks won again.
And Wednesday morning, he found himself being interviewed on the NFL Network after he was told he will start again Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings, as coach Pete Carroll told the media via Zoom that Adams is out again.
With a bye week next week, the Seahawks hope giving Adams this week and next week off means he can return Oct. 25 against Arizona fully healthy for the rest of the season.
“Like I told Jamal, I’m just holding it down until you get ready to come back,’’ Neal said.
It’s all pretty heady stuff for a player who went undrafted out of Southern Illinois, where as a junior he was relegated to being a reserve for about half the season due to the emergence of safety Jeremy Chinn, a second-round pick in 2020 of the Carolina Panthers, and spent most of the past two years on practice squads with the Falcons and Seahawks.
But right at the top of the list of everything that’s happened this season came last week after a practice, when Carroll tapped him on the shoulder and told him to come to his office and get Kam Chancellor’s number because Chancellor wanted to talk to him.
“I’m like, ‘Oh God, Kam, this is Kam,’’’ Neal said. “Even though I see him every day, coming up in the football world everybody watched the Legion of Boom and it was like, ‘This is Kam Chancellor. This is the guy.’’’
Chancellor told Neal he wanted to watch film with him and give him tips, so the two spent time almost every day last week talking football.
“It was the best thing ever for him to just reach out and tell me exactly how he saw it, how he see things,’’ Neal said. “And he was breaking down my clips and just telling me what to look at, when to look at it and all that. I mean it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had being in the league so far, just getting that kind of advice from a legendary dude.’’
Neal looked Chancellor-esque at times last week, not only with the interception but with a thunderous hit laid on Miami running back and former UW star Myles Gaskin.
“I thought it was great,’’ middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said about the hit, which came on a screen play and resulted in an incomplete pass. “I thought he read the play really fast. I thought he got there. It was a clean hit. … I’m just really happy for him. He’s really making the most of his opportunity.’’
It’s been an especially opportune development for the Seahawks to allow them to get Adams healthy while feeling comfortable in his replacement for the time being, especially with Adams’ backup — Lano Hill — also out with a back issue.
Had Hill been healthy against Dallas instead of turning up on game day reporting he was sore, then Neal might still be waiting his turn.
But Wagner and others with the team say Neal is the perfect example of being ready for the opportunity when it arose.
“I think the biggest thing is his eagerness to learn,’’ Wagner said. “Even though he was on the practice squad last year, he was trying to make plays at practice, trying to figure out where (Russell Wilson) was trying to get the ball at. He was asking questions, and he was trying to get better. And that’s always a sign of a guy that that is going to be around a long time.’’
Also impressed have been the evaluators at Pro Football Focus.
Neal’s grade of 74.7 ranks fifth among all safeties and is the best for any Seattle defender other than linebacker K.J. Wright. Neal’s pass-coverage grade is seventh among all safeties, with PFF charting Neal playing 60 of his 100 snaps at free safety.
Neal’s play so far compelled Carroll to say Monday that, even when Adams comes back, the Seahawks may have to find ways to get Neal on the field in sub packages — which could most realistically be in the dime package, a role Hill had held before he was hurt.
Neal, though, knows well the realities of NFL life — his older brother, Mike, was a linebacker with the Packers from 2010-15 and made two tackles for Green Bay in the memorable 2015 NFC title game against the Seahawks in Seattle — and says he knows things can change quickly, good or bad.
“I’m a low-key kind of guy,’’ he said. “I live my life kind of private, and getting a lot of attention is new, so you know, you just take it in stride, keep it in perspective and don’t let it fill you up. Don’t be too high, don’t be too low, just keep even-keeled. That’s kind of how I’ve been looking at because I understand how everything works. You just take it as it as it comes.’’
- The Seahawks had 26 players on their injury report Wednesday, a season high. But eight were players who practiced fully (including Wagner [ribs]; and Shaquem Griffin [shoulder]) and another 11 listed as limited, including three getting rest days (Greg Olsen, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett). Seven were listed as out, including Wright (illness).
- Cornerback Quinton Dunbar sat out practice again with the knee issue that has held him out the last two games. But Carroll said that was by design, saying Dunbar went through walk-through Wednesday with the hope of practicing Thursday. “And we’ll see how that goes,’’ Carroll said. “He’s determined to try to get back to this ballgame.’’
- Seattle also worked Mychal Kendricks on Tuesday, but a signing is not thought to be imminent, if it happens at all.
- Carroll said of linebacker Jordyn Brooks, “It’s going to be hard for him to get back this week.’’ Brooks suffered a knee injury against Dallas and sat out the Miami game. Cody Barton would likely start again at linebacker in his place.
- Carroll said cornerback Neiko Thorpe, who was placed on injured reserve, has a sports hernia and may need “to get fixed up.’’ Players can come off IR after three weeks but can also stay there all season.
- Carroll said the hope remains that both defensive end Rasheem Green and receiver Phillip Dorsett II will be able to come off IR following the bye week. That would be the first time each would be eligible to return.
- Carroll said running back Carlos Hyde will again wear a red jersey in practice this week to protect his shoulder, an injury that held him out against Miami. Carroll said Hyde may be able to play Sunday, but with the bye week, the team will also consider if it makes more sense to hold him out and allow him the extra week. Carroll said Hyde’s injury is not related to the shoulder surgery he had at the end of last season with Houston — he says it’s the other shoulder.
- Seattle also signed undrafted free agent linebacker Michael Divinity out of LSU and cornerback DeMarkus Acy out of Missouri to the practice squad and released receiver Lance Lenoir. That puts the practice squad at the max of 16 for the week.