Closer Look at Ohio State Commit Lewis Neal
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Who is Lewis Neal?
That’s what Ohio State fans wanted to know Monday when the Buckeyes received an unexpected commitment from the relatively unknown defensive prospect out of North Carolina.
Neal’s commitment came on the heals of a highly-anticipated announcement from Fort Lauderdale defensive end Joey Bosa, who verbally committed to Urban Meyer and his staff over the weekend.
Bosa was the second commitment to roll after Ohio State’s Spring Game Saturday, following linebacker—and fellow “bash brother”—Alex Anzalone, who announced his decision to commit to the Buckeyes on Sunday.
While Anzalone and Bosa are among the top-rated players in the country at their respective positions, Neal was more of an enigma when he visited Columbus over the weekend.
Rated as a 3-star defensive end by both Rivals.com and 247Sports, Neal is listed as a 3-star middle linebacker by Scout.com. Rather than guess where Neal might fit at Ohio State, we decided to ask someone who knows a lot more than we do about the Wilson, N.C. product.
“The first thing I will say about Neal is that I believe he is a high-character kid. He’s very affable, very polite, and you can tell he’s considerate of others,” said Keith Niebuhr, the Southeast Football Recruiting Analyst over at Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports.
“Some people dismiss that, but when you combine that with his physical abilities, that stuff matters. He’s probably going to be a very coachable kid, and a guy who won’t give them too many problems at Ohio State.”
Niebuhr got a chance to see Neal in person at the Rivals.com/VTO Sports Elite 100 camp at Mallard Creek High School down in Charlotte. That is where Neal ran his listed 4.95 40 time, but Niebuhr does not think Ohio State fans should be too concerned about the kids 40 time.
“He might have just had a bad day. Brandon Spikes, when he was at Florida, he ran a 5-something at the combine and he is a starter in the NFL,” Niebuhr said Monday afternoon.
“If a guy can play, they (Ohio State) don’t seem too concerned. He doesn’t have great 40-speed, but has great football speed. He’s quick and explosive off the line. He gets into the body of an offensive lineman so quick that it leaves very little time to react.”
Neal was working with the defensive linemen at the camp in Charlotte, and that is really the only position he has played on that side of the ball in high school. He is coming to Ohio State as a linebacker, but told Niebuhr he loves playing with his hand on the ground.
He has drawn some comparisons to Durham linebacker Jamal Marcus, a player many thought was underrated in last year’s class before he signed with the Buckeyes in February. It wasn’t long after that when Neal received his offer during a phone conversation with Luke Fickell and Everett Withers.
“He is very thrilled by the opportunity there,” Niebuhr said.
“He feels like he was overlooked by some other schools, where he felt he deserved an offer and didn’t get one. So Ohio State is getting a kid who definitely has a chip on his shoulder.”
But Can He Play?
Neal is listed at 6-1, 232 pounds. Couple that with his slow 40 time at the champ in Charlotte, and fans might get the wrong idea about the defensive end/linebacker.
“His vertical was 31.5 inches, and he’s very compact, and a good athlete,” Niebuhr said.
“He’s not a bowling ball. Some people might hear 6-1, 230 and think he’s this little bowling ball running around. He’s not. He’s a very good athlete. He is similar to Lerentee McCray on Florida’s roster. He’s going to come in as a linebacker, but could easily be a defensive end in a 4-3.”
Much like Marcus, who was one of Meyer’s favorite gets in the class of 2012, the Buckeyes aren’t exactly sure where they will use Neal when he gets to Ohio State. He could end up playing anywhere from Sam linebacker to the Leo spot, which is the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position that Noah Spence will be asked to play when he gets on campus in the fall.
“We don’t know if he has the quick-twitch for linebacker because we’ve only seen him on the line, but Ohio State saw enough of his athleticism to think he would fit,” Niebuhr said.
“A lot of people thought (Jamal) Marcus was underrated last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt the same way about Neal.”
Outside of Ohio State, Neal held a number of good offers, including most of the big schools in his area of the country. Along with North Carolina, Clemson, Wake Forest, South Carolina and N.C. State, Neal also held offers from Auburn, Florida, Notre Dame and USC when he made his commitment to the Buckeyes on Monday.
“He has a pretty good offer list and some other schools that were interested. Alabama supposedly really liked him,” said Niebuhr, who has a lot of input on where kids from that area are ranked by Rivals.com.
“I don’t think it’s a reach. Is he a top 100 guy? At this point I don’t know but he has some ability.”
People might discredit Niebuhr and other recruiting analysts who had Marcus rated as a 3-star prospect a year ago, but he says the hybrid DE/OLB type guys are the trickiest players to evaluate.
There is no telling how college coaches are going to use players like Marcus and Neal at the next level. If they are used correctly, they could be stars, but if put in the wrong position, they could end up fizzling out.
Neal is reportedly taking the spot in Ohio State’s class that was going to linebacker Courtney Love before he committed to Nebraska over the weekend. If that’s true, Neal might start out at linebacker, but what Niebuhr really liked about him was his explosion off the ball.
“He has tremendous quickness at the snap, which is something that can’t be measured,” he said.
“There is no combine drill for that. When the ball is snapped, he is on the other side of the line before the guy across from him has even moved.”
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