Playing deeper into the winter than he has, Aaron Neary relished what was anything but a normal bye last week in Los Angeles.
“Coming in the day after the game was super cool, but coming in after it was like nothing I’d ever experienced,” said the Los Angeles Rams practice squad member, referring to the NFC Championship game on Jan. 20. “The media is times 10.”
So yes, he’s a bit busy – and relishing every moment of it.
Neary, one of three former Eastern Washington Eagles headed to the Super Bowl on Sunday, didn’t play a snap when the Rams beat the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime to win the NFC title.
In fact, he didn’t play a snap all season. But not once did he feel like he wasn’t part of the team – well, except maybe that week in early September and the day in October when he wasn’t a part of the team – even as a practice squad member.
“Just as included here, just as included,” Neary said. “You’re thanked by the coaching staff. Your work doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I’ve had friends and teammates say you don’t want to go there, go there,” Neary added, referring to other NFL teams. “Here you’re included, you’re loved, and you’re part of the team.”
Neary has bounced around a bit since he played on Eastern Washington’s offensive line from 2012-15. Signed by the Denver Broncos after going undrafted in 2016, Neary spent four months with Denver before it released him that September. Two days later, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to their practice squad for the 2016 season.
In 2017, when the Eagles released him, the Rams signed him. While Neary spent the year on their practice squad, he started at center in their Week 17 game, when the Rams rested many starters.
Then came this year, when the Rams released him in their final cutdown before the start of the season, which wasn’t all bad for Neary. The Cleveland Browns claimed him off waivers and placed him on their 53-man active roster.
But that lasted just four days. To make room for a defensive lineman, the Browns waived Neary. He rejoined the Rams – again on their practice squad, where he remained the rest of 2018. That is, except for Oct. 7, the day between when the Rams released and then re-signed him.
“It can get frustrating at times,” Neary said of the movement, “but I take a step back and look from an outsiders’ view. It’s pretty cool, being around the best of the best. Being an (offensive) lineman on the practice squad, you’re blocking (Ndamukong) Suh and (Aaron) Donald every day. I don’t think there’s any better spot than being here.”
With wide receiver Cooper Kupp and linebacker Samson Ebukam also on their roster, the Rams have an eye for Eastern Washington players.
“It shows that the staff here knows what they’re looking for to scoop up Cooper and Samson,” Neary said. “A lot of teams could have passed on those guys.”
EWU coach Aaron Best, who coached Neary on the offensive line, said Neary typifies the kind of players the Eagles recruit: someone with lots of potential who is eager to get better. Neary started on a partial scholarship and earned his way to a full scholarship as well as a starting position.
“The only chapter left to write for Aaron is to truly get a shot, to create more film on Sundays,” Best said.
Neary said he loves the Rams’ organization. He said their ownership bought up hotel rooms and arranged transportation for players’ families to get to Atlanta for the Super Bowl – Neary said his parents will attend – and that trickles down to the culture of the coaches and players.
“It’s a huge mutual respect. No matter your position or your status, no one is too good for anything,” Neary said. “Everyone’s having fun and doing their job.”
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