So, the third-year Green Bay Packers defensive lineman refuses to dwell on a failed drug test that resulted in a four-game suspension.
"That's the first thing I did was look at the positive," Neal told Packer Report. "I'm like, hey, I've been suspended, I've been dealing with injuries. You suspend me for something I did that doesn't make any sense, but you give me July, where I can train and rest my body, and then you give me four weeks where I don't have to do anything but make sure my body feels good for me to come back and push all the way to the (Week 10) bye week, and then I get a bye week? My schedule is set up for a whole bunch of rest, which will enable me to get healthy. I'm like, hey, it sucks to be suspended but I get to rest my body. I'm going to come back in Week 5, when everybody's going to be beat up, and I'm going to be fresh."
Neal's first two seasons in the NFL have been ruined by injuries, including last year, when a knee injury sustained early in training camp required surgery that kept him out until Week 11. The pain was with him for each of his 170 snaps in the games, not to mention the hundreds of snaps on the practice field. At the end of the season, Neal said he "didn't do anything for about five to six weeks" — a big deal for a workout warrior like Neal. The rest and recuperation has paid dividends.
"If you can't watch on the field and see that, then I don't know what you're looking at," Neal said. "I feel good. I'm more explosive than I've ever been, faster than I've ever been. I'm seeing things a lot better than I've ever seen them."
Of course, rather than fighting to retain his roster spot or vying for a significant role in the revamped defensive line rotation, Neal will be packing his bags and leaving Green Bay at the end of the preseason. Neal was suspended for four games for using Adderall, a drug prescribed to combat ADHD, because he didn't have an NFL-approved prescription.
"A lot of people have told me one thing that sticks in the back of my mind," he said, "and that's every time you get a chance to play football, you play it like it's your last opportunity because you never know when that opportunity is going to be taken away from you. For me, I've been blessed with the ability to play this game, and regardless of if I have to leave for four weeks or not, I'm going to come into training camp practices and I'm going to play them just like any game or practice. I'm happy to have the opportunity, I'm happy with the way I'm feeling. I'm blessed."
Where Neal doesn't feel blessed is how the NFL has handled his failed test. He shakes his head in disgust when asked about an appeal that never was heard.
"I guess the question is, how can the people that suspend you for taking the prescription medication, (then) after you've been suspended, give you prescription medication and they know that you've needed the medication and not even hear you out again?" Neal said when asked about appealing the suspension. "That doesn't make any sense. But, that's something you have to deal with. People are wrongfully accused all the time."
During the suspension, Neal is not allowed to have any contact with the team. That means no meetings or access to the weight room of team trainers. During the time away, Neal said he'd return to Tampa, Fla., where he trained during the offseason. He said he won't watch football to prevent his "beating himself up" for not being able to help the team. Before beginning his suspension, Neal will meet with position coach Mike Trgovac to plot a direction for the next month.
"I've always got a plan of attack and that's my plan: to attack," Neal said. "I'm not going to sit back and wait for myself to get ready to come back here. I'm going to train, I'm going to make sure that my wind's still there, I'm going to get after it like I have and do the things that I did during the offseason. I'm going to treat it like it's July and I'm going to be coming for training camp on July 29."
For Neal, the four weeks away will essentially be the same as the four-week break between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp. He sees no reason why he can't jump right into the rotation for the Week 5 game at Indianapolis on Oct. 7.
"When we left from OTAs and minicamp and were gone for four weeks, I didn't have any rust," he said. "I don't think I'm going to have any rust when I come back from a four-week vacation, if you will."
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.