Neal Fights Through Pain, Lack of Production

Mike Neal has been no stranger to the training room over his first two seasons in Green Bay. While his latest injury isn't expected to sideline him, his knee continues to be an issue in what has become a non-impactful return to action over the past month.

With his latest injury, Mike Neal got some good news for a change.

"We took a look at it already and luckily, finally, for once in my career, I get an MRI that comes out with everything positive," the Green Bay Packers' second-year defensive end said on Wednesday.

Neal suffered what he called a strained shoulder in Sunday's loss at Kansas City when he was attempting to make a tackle. The injury was to the same shoulder that forced him to miss the last 11 games and the playoffs last season, but this injury is unrelated.

Still, Neal was limited in practice Wednesday. He expects to be ready Sunday for the Bears.

The injury that Neal has been continually fighting through will be more the issue, however. Dealing with the pain from knee cartilage problems has been a weekly challenge since returning to action Nov. 20 against the Buccaneers.

"It's still bothersome," said Neal of the knee. "I mean, like I said, people don't understand the severity of the injury that I had. What I have with my knee, the average person takes a year-and-a-half to come back from."

Neal was sidelined because of his knee in training camp. In early September, he had surgery and missed the first nine games of the regular season.

Neal played a season-low 11 snaps (unofficially) against the Chiefs. In the previous three games, he had seen an increase in snaps from his debut, primarily as a part of the Packers' nickel package.

What has been more alarming is that Neal, a player many expected to fill the shoes of Cullen Jenkins, has had no impact in his return. According to statistics provided by Pro Football Focus, Neal has just one quarterback hit, two pressures, and two tackles in 110 snaps on the season. Of those snaps, 87 have been in a pass rushing situations.

Knee aside, Neal offers at least some explanation to why he and his interior linemates have struggled to put up pass rush numbers in their first year without Jenkins, a veteran player who spoke up at times about being allowed cut it loose in the Packers' defense.

"A lot of people don't understand this defense, understand this scheme," said Neal. "If you look at our interior pass rushers, we don't get but two or three opportunities to rush the passer during the game. Jenkins was able to make plays off his athletic ability, he understands the system, and he was able to catch those plays in the game. With us younger guys, we've just got to be able to do that. I mean, we don't have the type of experience that Cullen's got, especially on the side of the pass rush and understanding the philosophy of things."

Jenkins had seven sacks a season ago and 21 quarterback hits (according to statistics released by the Packers) in 11 games. The entire defensive line for the Packers has just six sacks and 17 quarterback hits in 14 games this season.

"I think with time it will work," said Neal of playing defensive line in a 3-4 scheme, "but it's just the philosophy of our defense. We don't rush the passer, and when you get those opportunities, they're limited, so people can't expect us to go out there and get six or seven sacks and all those tackles. That's just not how this football team will stand up."

For now, Neal is taking what the defense, and his knee, gives him.

"I can play on it. I can explode on it. I can do everything I pretty much need to, but just with a degree of pain," he said. "Trying to control that pain is pretty much what I'm trying to aim to do for the rest of the season. … I'm doing everything I can here with the trainers to try to keep the pain levels down, getting treatment, and mentally, just dealing with it, I think that's what people don't understand. Everybody just thinks that I came back 100 percent. Mentally I'm there, but my body's just reacting a little bit different. But I'm doing what I can."

Neal played in just two games in 2010 after dealing with an abdominal strain early and then a rotator cuff that put him on injured reserve Week 8 of the regular season. His missed time this offseason, too, with the lockout.

He showed enough promise, however, in the two games he played in 2010 – posting five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and a pressure – to back up some of the expectations.

"It's been frustrating (this season)," he said. "I haven't been able to do what I've wanted to, but we're winning football games. We're 13-1 and I can't be mad.

"The expectations of myself are probably a whole lot higher than what anybody else is saying. So, I think that the pressure from myself has been driving me a little bit, but it is what it is. I've just got to be able to take the punches and keep swinging."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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