Will Anderson and Evan Neal are Alabama football’s latest superstar showdown. The two Alabama wide receivers will face off in the SEC Championship game on December 2nd, with one of them likely to become the first player ever to win four BCS national championships.
This is a matchup between two of the best quarterbacks in Alabama football history. Anderson and Neal have been playing at a high level, but this game could determine who will be the starter for next season.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Will Anderson Jr., an Alabama linebacker, is accustomed to getting things going quickly.
Anderson has ran at 20 mph on GPS while jogging in practice, according to Dr. Matt Rhea, the Crimson Tide’s head of sports science. Even more remarkable, Anderson is the team’s quickest player, sprinting from a stop to five yards in 10.7 seconds. That’s almost as fast as former Crimson Tide wideout Jaylen Waddle, who was timed at 11.2 mph at five yards last year.
Anderson, who stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 245 pounds, is approximately 65 pounds heavier than Waddle, the Miami Dolphins’ No. 6 selection in the NFL draft this spring.
“At five yards, Waddle was the quickest I’ve ever seen,” Rhea remarked. “However, at 245 pounds, [Anderson] gets off to an amazing start.”
Week 1 of college football kicks off with a slew of big matchups, and ESPN and ABC have you covered all weekend. There are also hundreds of additional games available on ESPN+, SEC Network, ACC Network, and ESPN streaming. (The ESPN App also has all of the games.)
All timings are in Eastern Standard Time.
Boise State vs. UCF, Thursday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 10 UNC hosts Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. on ESPN on Friday, Sept. 3. 9 p.m., ESPN, Michigan State vs. Northwestern
Saturday, Sept. 4 Tulane at No. 2 Oklahoma, noon, ABC Western Michigan at Michigan, noon, ESPN No. 1 Alabama at No. 14 Miami, 3:30 p.m., ABC West Virginia at Maryland, 3:30 p.m., ESPN Texas Tech at Houston, 7 p.m., ESPN No. 5 Georgia at No. 3 Clemson, 7 p.m., ABC BYU vs. Arizona, 10:30 p.m., ESPN Texas Tech at Houston,
No. 9 Notre Dame takes on Florida State on Sunday, Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.
Monday, Sept. 6: 8 p.m., ESPN, Louisville vs. Ole Miss
Week 1 schedule in its entirety
Imagine Anderson’s disappointment during his first two weeks of practice at Alabama in 2020, when no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t come close to starting quarterback Mac Jones.
Of course, the Crimson Tide’s twin peaks, right tackle Evan Neal (6-foot-7, 350 pounds) and left tackle Alex Leatherwood, a first-round selection of the Las Vegas Raiders in April, were standing in his way.
Anderson stated, “It humbled me and taught me a lot.” “It helped me keep my head straight.”
And most likely on a swivel.
One of the difficulties — and pleasures — of playing at a school like Alabama is practicing against possible NFL draft selections every day.
“We’re not going to see many players in games that are better than what we see every day in practice,” Neal said.
That will most certainly be the case for the No. 1 Crimson Tide in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta versus No. 14 Miami.
In the past 13 NFL drafts, the Crimson Tide have had 106 players chosen, more than any other FBS school, including 39 in the first round. In each of the previous five rounds, Alabama has had nine or more players selected, including ten this past April.
“When people tell you that you can’t play here, you should be offended by that, otherwise we wouldn’t be recruiting you,” I tell players all the time. Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, said. “They’re telling you we’re better than them if they say you can play at their place before you can play at our location. If you ask our players, they would tell you that they are playing against excellent players, which helps them improve.”
Alabama’s workouts from 2014 to 2016 were a perfect illustration of this, with left tackle Cam Robinson battling defensive end Jonathan Allen every day. Robinson earned the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, while Allen won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, and Ted Hendricks Award as the best defensive player and defensive end in the country in their last season with the Tide.
“For three years, [cornerback] Marlon Humphrey covered Amari Cooper every day,” Saban remarked. “Patrick Surtain, a cornerback, covered four first-round picks every day in practice for three years. It improves your performance.”
Anderson, who started at linebacker as a freshman in the 2020 season opening, has exemplified this. In the first seven games, he had zero sacks, but in the last six, he helped the Crimson Tide win their third national title in the previous six years. Anderson finished third in the SEC with 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, as well as 52 tackles and eight quarterback pressures.
Will Anderson Jr., a 6-4, 245-pound linebacker, is also one of Alabama’s quickest players. USA TODAY Sports/Kevin Jairaj
“Going up against mature guys like Evan when I was so young made me so much better,” Anderson remarked. “Every day, I’m up against a first-round draft selection. You have no option but to improve. He can move, has powerful hands, and can bend, which are all desirable qualities in an offensive lineman.”
Neal, a junior from Okeechobee, Florida, is one of the most physically gifted offensive lineman in Alabama history. He weighed 385 pounds when he came to Alabama from IMG Academy and has lost approximately 30 pounds since then. In 2019, he started 13 games at left guard and 13 games at right tackle. In 810 plays last season, he only had three penalties and six failed assignments, yielding 1.5 sacks. Neal is going to left tackle this season after Leatherwood departed for the NFL.
Despite his massive size, Neal regularly completes 48-inch box leaps and once won the internet with a video of an amazing split-leg box jump this summer. According to Rhea, he bench presses 475 pounds, squats 650, and has a GPS speed of 18.5 mph.
I’m always trying to outdo myself! @UA CoachBallou @MattRheaPhD pic.twitter.com/mEkce64Eqy
12 July 2021 — Evan Neal (@ENeal73)
Anderson said, “Offensive linemen aren’t meant to leap like that.”
“God and DNA,” Neal says of his remarkable athleticism. Eddie Neal, his father, was a linebacker at Tulane from 1981 to 1984. Cleveland Gary, his uncle, was a great running back at Miami who was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Rams in 1989. Jimmie Jones, another uncle, was a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Dallas Cowboys and played defensive lineman for the Hurricanes from 1985 to 1989.
Saban sees space for growth in Neal, despite how successful he was in his first two seasons.
Saban remarked, “He’s good.” “‘Look, dude, all these pro guys, your ass is on the ground far too much,’ I told him the other day. Your ass shouldn’t be on the ground, no matter how excellent an athlete you are, or how large and strong you are. That’s what the NFL folks are looking at: ‘Why is your ass on the ground so much?’ He’s a fantastic player.”
What is the most challenging aspect about practicing against Neal every day?
“He’s a giant with a lot of movement,” Anderson remarked. “His physique takes up a lot of room. Even when I try to get off the ball as quickly as possible, his physique is so large that he’s already engaged.”
Anderson is one of the Tide’s most powerful players, despite his speed. Anderson squats 570 pounds and power-cleans 365, according to school records. Anderson’s lower-body strength is in the top 1% of all current and past Tide players in the program’s database, according to Rhea.
“Don’t get me wrong, he’s got a lot of talent,” Saban remarked. “He is, nevertheless, a diligent, hardworking, and competitive young man. He has excellent character, is intelligent, and is simple to teach. That’s what I wish they were all like. He’s one of a kind.”
Whatever Anderson and Neal have to deal with against Miami, it’s unlikely to be as difficult as what they’ve seen from each other in practice.
Anderson stated, “I beat him sometimes, he defeats me occasionally.” “Every day, we both put forth excellent effort. It’s difficult. It alternates between two states. We both realize it’s only going to help us grow.”
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