Neal returned to practice on Thursday, getting his first on-the-field action since injuring his knee during training camp and having surgery before the Week 2 game against Carolina. Neal took part only in individual drills on Thursday and Friday.
"They're just throwing me back out there little bit by little bit," Neal said on Saturday. "I didn't expect to do team things by the end of this week. The plan was individual but my knee responded the way they wanted it, so it was like, ‘OK, let's see how he does with a couple reps in team, and if you feel comfortable with that, then we'll progress a little bit more.'"
Neal, who's played in only two of a possible 24 regular-season games after being a second-round pick last year, is not sure when he'll be able to make his season debut. He didn't rule out next Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay. Playing at Detroit on Thanksgiving, however, would give him an extra few days before the Dec. 4 game at the New York Giants.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Neal hit "every target this week," though he wasn't about to talk about a timetable for Neal to make his season debut.
"It's really increase the load, how does he respond the next day?" McCarthy added. "Today we practiced in helmets, so the team drills are not as physical. It's a good team drill to initiate him back into the practice part of it. We'll see how he does over the weekend and see if we can increase his team activity.
Neal said he typically arrives at Lambeau Field before 6 a.m. and doesn't go home until 5:30 p.m. His days are filled with everything from strength and conditioning work to massage and acupuncture. He pushed himself on Saturday and managed to flash a smile or two amid what's been a disappointing season.
"For me, I treat practice like a football game. I always have," Neal said. "If I'm not going to play Monday and this is the most I'm going to do, then I'm going to make the best of my opportunities. I want to get myself comfortable going game speed, regardless of if we're going half-tempo or full-speed. That's just the type of person that I am."
Packers injury report
Out — LT Chad Clifton (hamstring); DE Mike Neal (limited; knee); OLB Frank Zombo (hamstring). Probable — S Morgan Burnett (full; hand); OLB Clay Matthews (limited; knee); G Josh Sitton (limited; knee).
Asked about the cast on Burnett's broken right hand, McCarthy said: "If you watch, it will continue to get smaller. That's been the history of players that have played with the cast in the past, Nick Barnett, all the way through. It's just how he's healing and how he's progressing. He'll continue to cast it, it should go down here in another week or so."
Vikings injury report
— Guard T.J. Lang won't seek out Vikings defensive end Brian Robison to hash out Robison's kick to the groin on Oct. 23. "If I see him, I'm sure we'll even things out face to face," Lang said. "No, I don't have any plans for it. It's something I put behind me two weeks ago. If we see each other, I'm sure we'll talk and have a few words and smooth things out. I'm not going to look for revenge or anything."
— The 7:30 p.m. start time can be a challenge for players, who are creatures of habit. "You get up Monday morning, you have the walkthrough, then you have that six-hour block of time," McCarthy said. "That's really the one chunk of time where everybody has to really be smart with their time as far as how much they're off their feet, but also you don't want to go into a three-hour power nap, either. What you find out is, your pregame meal is always four hours before the game. Everybody's at the stadium really early, because guys get anxious, they want to get over here, this is where you want to be. We have great facilities, and it accommodates our players. It's always a positive when you see your players in here extra early for a game."
— Vic So'oto has something to prove before he'll be used on defense. "Once we see him perform on the practice field where we feel good that he's ready to go out there and perform, then he'll get his chance," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
— With a gluten-free diet and the elimination of one of his favorites, pepperjack cheese, running back James Starks says his weight has remained steady at about 218 pounds. Once he started playing last season, Starks said his weight steadily declined.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.