The Washington Redskins selected Defensive Tackle Chris Neild with the second to last pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, 253rd out of 254 selections. While many experts and arm chair experts alike, would possibly pontificate that such a late round pick has little chance of making much of a mark, don’t be so quick to judge. Sometimes there’s more than meets the eye.
The 6’2″, 320 pound nose tackle was a three year starter at West Virginia, who were second in the nation in both rush defense, and sacks in 2010; 3rd overall in total defense. Neild had 35 tackles, four tackles for a loss, and a career high 3 sacks to earn a first team All-BIG EAST selection. After red-shirting in 2006, he saw action in 11 games in 2007, including two as the starter. He started all 13 games in each of the next three seasons. The final tallies on his prolific career at West Virginia were 130 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, and six sacks. He earned the reputation of being a tough, gritty player, and as a senior was very much a leader on and off the field.
So after a storied college experience, is it hard to come into an NFL training camp as a rookie and have to find his way?
“It is not difficult at all. I understand my role within the team and I am trying to do whatever is necessary to help this team succeed. I have been in this same situation before coming in as a freshman at WVU so it is not that new to me, but at the same time much different because this is my job.”
That freshman was reported to have not shown up to WVU in the shape that he is today, and even described himself as a “butterball”. Neild said, “When I first arrived in Morgantown in ’06, the head strength and conditioning coach was Mike Barwis. Prior to getting there I heard stories about his workouts so I really did not know what they were going to entail but I knew they were gonna be at a level that I have never trained at before. There were many hypertrophy workouts and the infamous “Hill” started my trek to getting in decent shape. It is about 85 yards of hell. The higher you run up it, the steeper it gets, the more it demands out of you. It welcomed me to college football in a way that I do not wish on anybody.”
Perhaps it was that grim indoctrination that stirred the monster. Neild plays with passion and fury, and from whistle to whistle. He doesn’t make plays with athletic, graceful moves; he smacks you in the face a couple of times and chews on your leg. He’s intense, he never takes plays off – he is the veritable ‘lunch pail’ type guy. It’s actually surprising that he was one pick away from being Mr. Irrelevant, given that he was a major component of a good program that was defensively excellent last year. It had to be agonizing waiting that long to hear that he had been drafted by Washington:
“It was one of the longer days in my life to be honest. I was told my draft projection was between rounds 5-7 and possibly free agent so I did not know what to expect. I was with my family at a cousin’s house so I was definitely getting nervous as the 7th round ticked away, but when my name was called it lifted a weight off my shoulders. I was very happy that I got to spend that moment with my family and close friends.”
The family didn’t have to wait long to find out that his seventh round selection didn’t seem to have much bearing on what the Redskins staff thought about him. Coach Mike Shanahan had very high praise for Neild following the draft, “I love the way he competes. I love how important football is to him, because you can tell. He’s got a mindset when he plays, and you can tell he really enjoys football. He lines up right over that center and competes on every down.”
Neild’s quest to do just that – crack the Redskins’ roster – is made that much more difficult by the NFL lockout, and the subsequent loss of offseason workouts. Rookies come into 2011 NFL training camps with a mountain to learn, and virtually no time to do so.
“I am really trying my best to learn the playbook and adjust to the speed of the game at this level, which I feel I have been progressively getting better at. Most of the veteran defensive linemen have been helping me out, as well as Jarvis Jenkins. We are completely new to this, due to the lockout, so we are trying to soak up as much as we can because there is not a better source of information for a player, than a player.”
Though Neild is a little undersized to be a prototypical 3-4 nose-tackle, he actually should fit in quite well with a Jim Haslett defensive system that uses a lot of stunts. He has a good base and gets good leverage, making him a good run-stuffer, despite not being a ‘space eater’ like some of the bigger nose tackles in the league. The Mountaineers coaching staff spoke very highly of Neild’s ability to eat up double teams and free up their linebackers, something the Redskins will be looking to him to do for stud Brian Orakpo and first round pick Ryan Kerrigan. He is joining a Redskins squad that finished 26th overall against the run in 2010, and allowed an eye-opening 1.6 yards per carry more than the league’s leader in that category, the Pittsburgh Steelers (4.6 vs 3.0 yards per carry).
Neild gets to line up across from a very familiar face at training camp in former Mountaineers teammate Selvish Capers. They played together two years ago, and Capers recently described his former teammate as, “strong and quick,” and adding, “He’s an animal. He’s like a bowling ball. He’ll run straight through you. He has that bald head, that’s the lead right there.”
With training camp practices being quite vanilla for the most part, it will be more difficult for Neild to show off his non-stop motor to it’s fullest extent. Players of his ilk always feed off of the energy of the crowd, so Redskin fans may have to wait until their first preseason game at Fed Ex to see him at his best. It’s something that Neild is very much looking forward to, “I am extremely excited to experience what I have heard so much about, with the fans of Redskins Nation. Being a defensive player, the crowd will usually act as that 12th player, and help the team get through a tough situation within the game, so I am definitely looking forward to that.”
He of course prefers charcoal to gas, prefers “Entourage” to “Curb”, and currently has Eminem and Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony on his iPod. The rookie road-grader goes by the nickname “Truck” – a nickname bestowed on him way back in elementary school. “When I was in 6th grade, I was playing in this basketball league and would foul out 2 out of every 3 games on charges alone. Need I say more?” Obviously football was a much more logical choice for him, even at a young age.
He isn’t hard to pick out with his grizzly beard pouring out of his helmet; a beard that he shaved off after the draft, but has since grown back. He’s wearing number 66 in training camp, so keep an eye out for him. He has that intangible overachiever quality that turns late round picks into long-time NFL starters. His coach knows this as well as anyone, “I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t come in here and do everything possible to make this football team. Just talking to him, I could tell he’s excited and wants to get here right away and do what he can do to make this football team. He’s a great competitor,” said Shanahan.
Neild understands completely that it might mean adjusting to a very different situation than what he was accustomed to in college, “It will not be a tough transition at all. I understand the role I have right now, so if it means backing up a player then that is what I will do. I just want to put myself in a position that can help this team win.”
The Redskins brought in free agent Barry Cofield from the New York Giants to fill the nose tackle spot, arguably the biggest need for the Redskins in free agency. Washington also have second year man Anthony Bryant, so Neild has his work cut out for him, to make the final 53-man roster.
He says the right things. He has a great attitude. He certainly looks the part. He will have to work on his lateral movement against quicker NFL offensive linemen, but don’t bet against Chris Neild coming in and making the Washington Redskin 2011 roster. In fact, don’t be surprised if he works his way into a significant contributing role by the end of his first season.
Grab that lunch pail of yours Chris, you’re going to be here for a while.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway