Keanu Neal didn’t want to wait too long before signing his first NFL contract.
Drafted 17th overall by the Atlanta Falcons last week, Neal signed a four-year deal worth over $10 million before the team’s two-day rookie mini-camp started Friday.
The former Florida standout says it was important to get the contract done so he could focus on football.
“At the beginning of practice, I just thought about where I am right now,” he said. “I’m with the Atlanta Falcons getting ready to start rookie mini-camp. Just like the draft process, it was surreal.”
The Falcons were the first team to sign their entire rookie class. Coming off an 8-8 season that ended with seven losses in the last nine games, second-year coach Dan Quinn is eager to gain whatever momentum the team can create.
“That’s a big deal, so I couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot that has to happen over these next six weeks to get them ready for training camp, and that’s really the goal: How fast can we accelerate that process? And that started here today.”
Quinn is particularly keen to see how quickly Neal adapts. He recruited Neal to Florida during his two-year stint as the Gators’ defensive coordinator.
Neal, who will compete with Kemal Ishmael for a starting job, appreciates the opportunity after the Falcons made him a surprise first-round pick. Most draft boards had Neal going in the second round.
“It’s a big learning process,” Neal said. “Just getting a feel for the defense and getting used to it. I’m sure that’s everybody’s deal when they go into a new scheme.”
The coaching staff is trying to ease in the rookies as smoothly as possible. Quinn has no intention to feed them too much information too fast.
“As coaches, we can really slow it down, get the exact teaching that we want to get done,” Quinn said. “Do it for a couple days and then get right back into training in the weight room (and) in the classroom to help them get ready before we get into the (offseason training activities).”
Linebacker Paul Worrilow, the team’s defensive captain, has been in touch with several of the first-year players and is eager to get them together with the veterans for OTAs later this month.
Worrilow texted linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, a fourth-round pick from Minnesota, to welcome him to the team. He also makes it point to pull undrafted players aside to offer encouragement.
Worrilow made Atlanta’s roster as undrafted college free agent out of Delaware. Now he’s a fourth-year starter.
“I got called the wrong name for the first two weeks,” he said. “They called me (former Falcons seventh-round pick) Zeke Motta couple of times. All that’s irrelevant. It’s what you do when your helmet’s on and you’re on the field.”
Note: Quinn said free-agent cornerback Leon Hall took a physical with the team, but no decision has been made on offering him a contract. Hall played his first nine seasons with Cincinnati and was a full-time starter until last year. … The Falcons have 59 rookies in camp. Most of them are on tryouts.