From setback to comeback: Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen share behind-the-scenes journeys back to the field 

The highly anticipated return of starting safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal to the field after suffering season-ending injuries has been one of the main storylines of the Falcons’ offseason.

When the Falcons hosted the New York Jets last Thursday, Neal and Allen saw their first game action since early on in the 2018 season.

When the Falcons lost Neal and Allen for the season, Atlanta’s defense took a massive hit. Neal suffered a torn ACL during a 18-12 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. Allen tore his Achilles in 43-37 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 3.

Not only are Neal and Allen two the Falcons’ best players on defense, they both have significant roles in the whole operation of Dan Quinn’s defense. The Falcons finished as the eighth-ranked team in points allowed per game (19.7) in 2017 when Allen and Neal were on the field. Without them, Atlanta finished the 2018 season ranked No. 25 in this category.

Some perspective as to just how important they’ve become to the Falcons.

Allen has evolved into the Falcons quarterback on defense.

Prior to the start of the 2018 season, Allen signed a three-year contract extension. After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft as a cornerback, Allen’s position was switched to free safety.

Quinn had a vision for what he thought Allen could be in his defense and it’s worked out exactly as he hoped. Allen has started 49 games for the Falcons registering 229 tackles and seven interceptions.

“I’m ready. It’s been a long time coming,” Allen said.

Neal was drafted in the first round to be the Falcons’ “enforcer” in the backfield. His mix of size, strength and speed is rare for the strong safety position and his ability to make physical plays while being able to cover are among the many reasons he’s an important piece in Atlanta’s defense.

In his first two seasons, Neal recorded 222 tackles, 15 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one interception.

Neal spent a majority of his offseason rehabbing in Boca Raton, Fla., where the AtlantaFalcons.com video team traveled to document a pivotal part of his journey back to the field. Here’s a look at Neal’s comeback also told in his own words:

“Once the game hits, willing everything pans out the way it should, it’s going to feel like I never left,” Neal said.

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S Keanu Neal has prepared extensively to get back on the field after tearing his left ACL in the first game of the 2018 season against the New York Jets. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Neal's offseason.

S Ricardo Allen refuses to give up after suffering a torn achilles tendon in the third game of the 2018 season against the New Orleans Saints. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Allen's offseason as he prepares to return to the field.

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