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#1 Posted : Thursday, December 27, 2012 8:45:30 PM(UTC)
The pressure involved with being a high draft choice on the Green Bay Packers’ defensive line was evident early.

B.J. Raji felt it as a top-10 selection in 2009. So did Mike Neal when the Packers nabbed him in the second round in 2010.

As recent history indicates, the defensive line is an easy place to get a bad rap among NFL pundits, especially in Green Bay after the team invested heavily into expensive busts like Jamal Reynolds, Joe Johnson and Cletidus Hunt in the early 2000s.

Even as recently as 2007, the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson gambled on injury-prone defensive tackle Justin Harrell, a first-round pick who played in only 28 games over four years.

So when Neal started hearing his name lumped into that same category during the offseason after two injury-riddled campaigns, the 6-foot-3, 294-pound defensive lineman did his best to not let it bother him.

Even when a four-game suspension called into question if he’d ever see his third NFL season, Neal stuck to the biblical verse — John 16:33 — his mother, Rhonda, reiterated to him as a child.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”

This season, Neal is starting to overcome the injury-prone label while showing the natural explosiveness and strength that garnered the Packers’ attention three years ago.

In only 10 games, Neal leads the Packers’ defensive line with 4½ sacks among 18 total pressures, which ranks second on the unit to Raji’s 21 although Neal has played 364 fewer snaps this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Neal is averaging a pressure every 8.3 pass-rush attempts this season, which is tied for eighth in the NFL among all 3-4 defensive ends.

Outside of a small scare three weeks ago with his shoulder, Neal has avoided the injuries that limited him to only nine games over his first two NFL seasons, along with casting aside the pressure that burdened him as a rookie.

“The funny thing is I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Neal said. “I mean they knew what my situation was coming into last year, but I put so much pressure on myself to perform because I kind of read into what we’ve been talking about, not being able to let go of what people are saying. People calling me a bust, injury prone and it was one of those things I couldn’t let go of so I wanted to play so well that I was actually playing worse.”

In many ways, the 2012 season has been an epiphany for the third-year defensive lineman, starting with the four-game ban he received earlier this year for violating the league’s policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Neal claims his positive test stemmed from the use of Adderall for attention deficit disorder that drew red flags after he received it through a private doctor rather than a team physician.

The Packers also added competition on the defensive line by drafting Jerel Worthy in the second round and Mike Daniels in the fourth round last April.

“Honestly, if you asked me, I never thought I’d be in this locker room this season, but they’ve worked with me and I’m happy and it’s been working out for them,” Neal said.

“After I got suspended, and I saw the way that the draft went and all the guys that they brought in, I knew my chances of making the team were probably slim. That’s just how I looked at it from my perspective. They may not have thought that, but that’s pretty much how I looked at it. In that perspective I think it’s been able to turn on a different notch of the game for me.”

Despite having his appeal denied, the suspension allowed Neal to refocus in a round-a-bout way with Worthy and Daniels pushing him through easily his most productive training camp.

During his month off, Neal watched his younger brothers play high school football for the first time and celebrated his father’s birthday in-person for the first time in eight years.

When Neal returned against Indianapolis in Week 5, he earned his first sack in two years and has shown no signs of slowing with the health to finally match his hunger.

“The guy’s been beat up around here. Whether it’s right or wrong, he’s had some issues in there, but I know he’s a good football player,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac said. “I know that he really wanted it. Sometimes things just happen to people.”

With recent injuries to C.J. Wilson and Worthy, Neal’s role has expanded past being a pass-rushing specialist in sub-packages to taking on more responsibility in run defense over the past month.

link to rest of story
#2 Posted : Thursday, December 27, 2012 9:36:20 PM(UTC)
Yes i have been a doubter but I'm happy to hsve him start showing up on Sundays.
Hopefully he can stay healthy and continue to contribute.
#3 Posted : Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:58:38 PM(UTC)
I always thought Neal was extremely talented and would be able to contribute in the NFL. If he continues to stay relatively healthy, I think the sky is the limit. He could become a really good pass rusher and potentially much more. Either way, I'm fine with him only being an effective pass rusher, though, especially considering how much the Packers run sub-packages on defense. With a guy like CM3 on the field, the Packers only need a few guys that can beat a single blocker consistently.

Nick Perry almost reminds me of Neal, in a way. Perry is an athletic freak; incredibly fast and super strong. Perry's wrist injury should not effect him next season. Even if Perry continues to struggle for awhile, I believe he will find a niche' on this team and be a very effective pass rusher, at worst.
#4 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 12:38:41 AM(UTC)
I never wrote him off personally, although it pissed me off when it turned out they were completely lying to us about his knee last year.

Hope this article doesn't jinx him.
#5 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 6:41:59 AM(UTC)
yooperfan said: Go to Quoted Post
Yes i have been a doubter but I'm happy to hsve him start showing up on Sundays.
Hopefully he can stay healthy and continue to contribute.

I fall more or less into your category. I gave Bustin H the benefit of the doubt the whole time he was in GB. Mainly because I didn't want to see the first round pick wasted like it was. Neal didn't seem to follow the exact same mold but my patience was already gone.
#6 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 7:16:40 AM(UTC)
It would really be great if Neal and Perry would each become become a force. This defense would be awsome. Here's hoping...
#7 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 7:52:42 AM(UTC)
He was my impact player on defense in pre-season. Glad to see he has made himself "available". He was walking the tight rope there for a bit.
#8 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 8:09:25 AM(UTC)
I've never been down on him, or overly high either. I prefer to let things play out and just hope for the best for all players on the team. I didn't have the same concern for Neal as I did for Harrell because of they type of injury.

I Worthy, Neal, Perry a become productive. It is going to be hard to keep them all on the field along with Raji and Matthews. Will be nice problem to have.
#9 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 8:19:16 AM(UTC)
Health has been and will continue to be the major concern about Neal. Availability is the name of the game.

And fairly or unfairly, the secondary concern is that he is in the program already with a strike against him.
#10 Posted : Friday, December 28, 2012 12:39:42 PM(UTC)
Pack93z said: Go to Quoted Post
Health has been and will continue to be the major concern about Neal. Availability is the name of the game.

And fairly or unfairly, the secondary concern is that he is in the program already with a strike against him.

We've seen Neal, Perry and Matthews all get hurt at times... and the DBs have been looking pretty good... I say keep importing the front 5 ( aka DL and OLB ) the ILBers look VERY deep, with Hawk, Bishop, Smith and Jones.... though Jones is a FA and probably cost too much to pay 3 ILBs starters money. But Mike McCarthy did say he LOVED Jones at ILB...

Also Bulaga and Sherrod went down... keep improving the OTs. And get a C for next year, weather D-Smith is the starter or not... still need a back-up. Unless they're going to convert G Van Roten (which I hope they try to get him at C and G which would help his chances) or another OL.

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