IRVINE, Calif. – Three seasons, three teams. Some might call Aaron Neary’s preliminary years in the NFL frustrating. The third-year offensive lineman out of Eastern Washington would opt to go with fulfilling.
Neary was one of three ex-EWU players listed on the official roster when the Los Angeles Rams opened up training camp last Thursday on the UC Irvine campus. The Eagles are better represented than every school in the SEC, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the ACC. USC also lists three players on the Rams’ roster and Washington is the only school with four.
FCS record-holder Cooper Kupp wasted no time securing a starting job with the Rams in 2017 and returns as a staple of L.A.’s offense. Former EWU edge rusher Samson Ebukam is projected to move up the depth chart and start for the Rams at outside linebacker. That essentially leaves it up to Neary to ensure the Big Sky program in Cheney still has three of its alums in Los Angeles when the Rams announce their 53-man roster in September.
Neary’s thinking bigger than that.
“Every camp so far I’ve been a roster bubble guy. And last year I bounced around between (practice) squad and active,” Neary said after the first day of Rams camp in Irvine. “My goal is the exact same every single year. My goal is to start. If your goal is not to start and be the best, I don’t know why you’re out here. That’s my goal, that’s my aspirations. I want to lock down a spot on an active roster and I want to make a difference on Sundays.”
Finding his foothold in the NFL hasn’t been easy, though.
The former FCS All-American was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in May 2016. When Denver shaved its roster down to 53 in September, Neary’s name was left off. Two days later, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to their practice squad.
Approximately one year after that, the Richland native was on the market again. L.A. claimed him off waivers two weeks later and promoted him to the active roster on Dec. 27, 2017. With a majority of the team resting – the Rams had clinched the NFC West division title a week earlier – Neary made his NFL debut, starting at center.
“Going through the whole preseason cuts, getting claimed, all that stuff,” he said. “Going through that, you learn stuff that even the biggest NFL fans don’t understand the certain points about it. And I still don’t know all the little details about it, but you learn every time you go through it.”
His helmet collection is more diverse than most other third-year pros – and his knowledge of NFL offenses is significantly deeper.
“It’s been the best for me and being able to see how different systems work, being able to learn three completely different styles of play only makes me hopefully a more marketable player and a better player in the long run,” Neary said.
If the surroundings of this particular camp are more comfortable for Neary than any of those in the past, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Irvine feels a little bit like Cheney South this August.
“Since I came in later than Cooper and Samson, it was obviously great to see a few familiar faces,” Neary said. “And I think that just kind of shows what kind of work ethic Eastern installs in the people and I guess what Eastern looked for out of high school, too. It starts at a young age. I think that’s a credit, too, on Eastern Washington for finding diamonds in the rough, if you want to call it that, and turning them into NFL-caliber guys.”
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