Saluki sophomore moving to new position


Then-sophomore cornerback Ryan Neal, right, runs on a play. Neal played safety his freshman season. 

By Thomas Donley, @tdonleyDE

Without an experienced cornerback, SIU football was forced to move a former starter from safety.

Sophomore cornerback Ryan Neal, who never played the position before this spring, said he has not had many problems transitioning.

“It’s been pretty smooth,” Neal said. “There is a difference between safety and corner, but fundamentally, the footwork is not that much different.”


Neal said the toughest part of the change has been keeping his eyes on the player he is covering rather than the quarterback. 

“Stuff is going to develop very quickly when you’re playing at the corner spot,” Neal said. “At safety you’ve got time to analyze everything.”

SIU was left understaffed at the cornerback position for this season after Courtney Richmond and Boo Rodgers graduated. They both started every game last season. 

Defensive coordinator David Elson said Neal made the move because of his speed. 

“We knew that we were going to be thin at that position,” Elson said. “And during the winter workouts, we realized that he runs as well as anybody we’ve got on our team, so it makes sense to put that guy at corner.” 

At 6-foot-2, Neal is among the tallest defensive backs in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Senior safety D.J. Cameron said Neal’s size suits him well on the outside.


“It’s hard for a dude to catch a pass on him,” Cameron said. “And a quarterback, if he sees that tall cornerback on the outside, they don’t want to go to him.”

Elson said Neal is one of the team leaders who does everything right off the field, but he has to be aware of the situation. 

“Sometimes with guys like that, you don’t coach them as much,” he said. “With him at a new position, I’ve got to remember that every day is a new day when it comes to him playing corner.”

Elson said redshirt freshman Jefferson Vea looks like the front runner to start at corner opposite Neal.

“Jeff’s had a really good summer and a really good camp,” Elson said. “Torian Lewis is a true freshman who’s shown a lot of good things, and [redshirt freshman] Andrew McCrea is continuing to improve.” 

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @tdonleyDE.