BALTIMORE, Md. -- In a non-conference bout in Baltimore, Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore, Md.) hosted IAC-mainstay Bullis (Potomac, Md.) for an afternoon matinee Sept. 5. The home team ended up pulling off a 35-21 victory. Terrapin Times was on hand to scout a couple of the more intriguing prospects, including class of 2017 Bullis safety Damani Neal, who recorded five tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Our take on his game is below:
Damani Neal is a hard-hitting safety who does some of his best work in the box. The 6-foot, 185-pounder can thump; he’s not a head hunter, per se, but once Neal gets ahold of you, he typically finishes the play. A sound form tackler who gets low, drives from his base and wraps up, Neal allows little to no leaky yardage.
Moreover, Neal gets a great initial jump -- a product of his pre-snap reads -- and takes tight closing angles as well. The latter allows Neal to find ball-carriers all over the field, even when they’re running away from his side. His deft feet, coupled with his quickness and anticipation, allow him to arrive at the ball faster than his 40-yard-dash time might indicate.
In coverage, Neal excels at firing forward and jumping routes. He has plenty of quick-twitch fibers, allowing him to read and react almost instantaneously.
Neal can also pick up, and hang with, receivers who cross his face. He breaks down well in space, rarely gets caught flatfooted, and has a smooth backpedal.
And since he doubles as a receiver, Neal aggressively pursues the ball and possesses soft hands. He high-points wayward throws, gets physical in the air and will fight to break up (or come down with) a pass.
To improve, Neal has to continue honing his deep coverage skills. He shows some hip tightness when turning and running, not nearly as fluid as he is when moving downhill.
Neal could stand to improve his range in centerfield as well. He’s fine roaming sideline to sideline near the line of scrimmage, but he has to prove he can offer over-the-top help.
The Bullis safety has to become more consistent with his footwork too, as sometimes he’ll get crossed up when trying run with receivers. He can also be indecisive when switching on and off wideouts, which leads to a slower reaction time in coverage. The latter could improve as Neal’s field awareness grows and he becomes more acclimated to tracking deep.
As a run defender, Neal has to work on disengaging and fighting through traffic. At times, he runs around blockers instead of through them, shying away from contact. Neal has to be able to use his hands to fend off blocks and pick through the trash if he’s going to be playing in the box at the next level.
Lastly, Neal has to bulk up and keep adding strength, which should help him shed and take down bigger backs in the gaps.