Evan Neal’s Thanksgiving was supposed to be more about a measuring stick than a drumstick.
It still might be, if the rookie right tackle returns from a three-game absence due to injury to start for the Giants against the Cowboys. He is expected to be a game-day decision.
“I’m just making sure whenever I do go back out there I’m 100 percent ready to go,” Neal said Tuesday with tempered optimism. “I don’t want to leave a stone unturned and make a premature decision and something bad happens. I’m crossing every t and dotting every i, pretty much.”
The low point to date of Neal’s rookie season happened when he allowed three sacks and five pressures against longtime Giant-killer Demarcus Lawrence on Sept. 26. From that moment on, the Giants-Cowboys and Neal-Lawrence rematches set for Thursday felt like a chance to show the improvement evidenced in allowing just one sack and six quarterback hits over the next four games combined.
“I’d love to be in this game,” Neal said. “But thankfully we see them twice a year every year. It’s going to be awesome.”
The Giants could start any of three right tackles. If Neal can’t go, Tyre Phillips (neck) is next up. If Phillips can’t go, Matt Peart — who finished the game Sunday — could return to the starting lineup for the first time since last season, before a torn ACL that sidelined him until recently.
The Cowboys lead the NFL in defensive alignment movement, according to Neal.
“Regardless of whether I play this week or I don’t,” Neal said, “I’m going to have another opportunity to play against NFL competition.”
Peart has not allowed a sack on 72 career snaps over three games against the Cowboys. Neal said he feels close to returning, but there are other questions on the offensive line, where four starters (all but right guard Mark Glowinski) and two top backups are on the injury report.
“You never really know until you take those live reps,” Neal said. “I can do drills on the side, and I can take pass sets and go on the boards, but that’s not blocking an NFL defensive end in a game situation. I really won’t know until I get back out there.”
With only four walk-throughs and no true practices scheduled this week after the short turnaround from the loss to the Lions on Sunday, it’s tough to judge how much progress Neal made.
“Of course, Evan wants to get back on the field,” head coach Brian Daboll said. “I’d say what’s tough is just how we’re getting ready to play this game. It’s not necessarily, ‘Go out there and run around.’ It’s really treatment, talk to the trainers, talk to the player. And then we’ll make our decision.”