The 6-foot-2, 313-pound nose tackle lined up on the kickoff return team in the Redskins’ first preseason game, losing his shoe while running to form a wedge. By the time the referees blew the whistle, he realized the officials had signaled a touchback.
“I had some butterflies, I’ll tell you that,” Neild said. “But it was an exciting moment. It was a good feeling. Really, really happy about it.”
In part, Neild’s jubilation comes from the reality that his dreams of getting drafted to play in the NFL came down to the wire. He hosted a NFL draft party at his home in anticipation of hearing his name called on draft day, checking his phone while entertaining family and friends poolside. Two picks away from the end of the draft, the Redskins finally selected Neild . It brought him to tears as he embraced his parents.
Two weeks into training camp, Neild is third on the Redskins’ depth chart at nose tackle, a position where Washington will likely carry only two on the 53-man roster.
“I’m really just working hard trying to do whatever is best to help this team succeed,” said Neild, who if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster is likely to wind up on the practice squad. “At first it was a little bit of a tough adjustment, but we’ve been here for two weeks now. I think I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
Neild said his smooth transition into the NFL comes from his college days at West Virginia, where he executed similar techniques in a 3-5 defense covering two “a-gaps” along the line — meaning he had responsibilities on both sides of the center. He finished his senior season with 35 tackles and three sacks. His responsibilities in the Redskins’ 3-4 defense have been reduced to one “a-gap.”
“That’s helpful in a way, but at the same time, I still have some habits of trying to look backside to fill that opposite a-gap,” Neild said.
Neild hopes to have eliminated most of those habits by this Friday’s preseason game against Indianapolis. And although Neild received a glimpse of NFL action against Pittsburg, he expects to see the field more in his second preseason game.
“I’m not going to say I was shocked when I first got out there in the game on Friday, but I didn’t get that many reps,” Neild said. “Hopefully this week, I work hard in practice and they’ll put me out there a little bit more.”