"He practiced a little more today than he did yesterday. He's feeling better," coach Mike McCarthy said after a shorter-than-usual Friday practice. "I'll sit down with Mike and Dom (Capers, the defensive coordinator) and Mike Trgovac (the defensive line coach) tomorrow after he comes in for treatment to see how he feels."
Neal injured his knee in a noncontact drill during training camp on Aug. 16, and when the swelling wouldn't go down through rest and rehab, surgery was conducted on Sept. 13, before the Week 2 game at Carolina. Neal's taken part in every practice the last two weeks, though he's never been listed as a full participant.
That the Packers have a short turnaround for Thursday's game at Detroit – meaning Neal's knee would have three fewer days to recover from the rigors of game action – won't factor in the decision for Sunday.
"That's a good question," McCarthy said. "If he's ready and he can contribute to this game, we'll have him up. It's just a matter of if he's ready. He's had a chance to go through a good week of preparation. He knows everything that will be asked of him if he did play. We'll look at him tomorrow and see where it is."
The bigger issue is who sits if Neal is deemed fit to play. For most of the season, the Packers' seven-player inactive list has been filled with players who have been injured. The bye from two weeks ago means this is a relatively healthy team. In fact, only left tackle Chad Clifton and outside linebacker Frank Zombo have been ruled out for Sunday. No one is listed as doubtful and only Neal is questionable.
"Whether it's this week or next week, when you bring him up, you've got to make sure he's ready because you've got to put another player down and we're relatively healthy," McCarthy said. "We'd be putting a healthy player down. We probably would not even be close to a decision until tomorrow because I want to see how he comes off the practice, especially practicing inside today on the FieldTurf."
Neal, a second-round pick in 2010, has played in only two games in his career and none since the Week 5 loss at Washington. He was one of the best players on the field that day until sustaining a season-ending shoulder surgery that required surgery.
So, just what can Neal provide to help an inconsistent defense for the stretch run?
"You know, it's been so long since we've had him in there," Capers said. "Obviously, we thought highly of him, but it's been so long since we've had him in there. We'll have to see. We'll have to see. If we can work him back into things, he can give us a few things. I know one thing: If we can work him back in, it gives us another guy in the rotation of the defensive line so you don't have to overwork certain guys."
Defensive end Johnny Jolly, who was sentenced to six years in prison on Thursday, remains a member of the Packers officially and in the hearts of some of the members of the team.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Johnny as he moves forward with this challenge," McCarthy said. "Johnny was a very good teammate here; still look at him as a teammate, to a lot of the guys in the locker room. He has a challenge ahead and we all wish him the best."
Added defensive end Ryan Pickett: "Hurt. I feel hurt for him. Jolly is a great guy. He struggled with some issues, had problems, but everybody on this team knows his heart and what kind of player he was and what kind of teammate he was. My heart just goes out for him and his family."
Packers injury report
Out: LT Chad Clifton (hamstring); LB Frank Zombo (hamstring). Questionable: DE Mike Neal (knee; limited). Probable: S Morgan Burnett (full; hand); RB Ryan Grant (full; knee); LB Clay Matthews (limited; ankle); G Josh Sitton (limited; knee).
Asked if Matthews' issue is related to earlier issues with his quad and knee, McCarthy said: "This is totally different. I think it's that time of year for a lot of players. He's a very active player. He'll be fine; he'll play on Sunday."
Buccaneers injury report
Questionable: S Tanard Jackson (limited; hamstring); LB Dekoda Watson (did not participate; groin). Probable — DE Michael Bennett (groin); C Jeff Faine (did not participate; illness); QB Josh Freeman (full; right thumb); DT Albert Haynesworth (did not participate; knee); DT Frank Okam (full; calf); T Donald Penn (full; foot).
— Including Randall Cobb's 80-yard touchdown last week, there have been seven punt return scores of at least 80 yards this season. That's the most through the first 10 weeks of the season since at least the 1970 merger, according to the NFL.
— Including the Packers, there are six new first-place teams compared to last year's final standings. The others: Houston (over Indianapolis) in the AFC South), Oakland (over Kansas City) in the AFC West, New York (over Philadelphia) in the NFC East, New Orleans (over Atlanta) in the NFC South and San Francisco (over Seattle) in the NFC West.
— Sunday's forecast calls for a high of 37 with a chance of flurries. McCarthy had been expecting breezing conditions but the forecast has the winds at only 6 mph, according to Weather.com.
— According to Bodog.com, the Packers are an overwhelming 2-1 favorite to win the Super Bowl, and the NFC has been made an early three-point favorite to win the game.
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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.