In the case to be the Green Bay Packers’ No. 3 running back, the closing arguments begin on Saturday night.
Starting from Day 1 of the offseason all the way through this week’s training camp practices, Rajion Neal almost always has been the next man up behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Nothing, however, has been settled. Saturday’s game against the Eagles, Tuesday’s practice and Thursday’s game against the Saints will determine who – if anyone – wins the job.
“They’re all displaying good things but they’re still rookies and haven’t done anything,” running backs coach Sam Gash said recently. “The trust with any of them is still not there. We’ll have to see if it gets there.”
THE CASE FOR RAJION NEAL
Before Neal rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a senior at Tennessee, he spent his sophomore season playing wide receiver. It’s that ability to catch the football, a skill evident most days on the practice field, that separates Neal from fellow contenders Alonzo Harris and John Crockett.
“I definitely think it’s a big part of my game,” Neal said. “It’s something that I definitely strive at. Hopefully, that’s something they feel they can use. At this point, man, anything they need me to do or want me to do, I’m all for. Anything just to be a part of this franchise and the winning mentality that they have.”
Neal is anything but an undersized receiving threat. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, he’s got the size the Packers historically have coveted from their backs. Big backs are better able to grind out yards when fields turn treacherous and conditions turns miserable in December. Size comes in handy when having to take on a blitzing linebacker with his radar set on sacking Aaron Rodgers. And it’s an asset on special teams, too. It’s those “little things” that aren’t so little that might be the deciding factor in this battle.
“All that plays a big part and that’s stuff that they want to see and they’re going to need, just because you’ve got two guys in front of you who are pretty established and made a name for themselves in this league,” Neal said. “Until our name is called — whoever it may be — we’re going to have to do different things and find different avenues to contribute to this team.”
One reason why Neal’s been ahead on the depth chart since May is experience. As an undrafted rookie last season, Neal was injured in the preseason opener, released and then returned on the practice squad at midseason. Through two preseason games this summer, Neal has carried eight times for 26 yards (3.3 average) and caught two passes for 5 yards (2.5 average).
“Just play my game,” Neal said of his outlook for these final games. “Just make sure I stay consistent, dependable and understand the play calls, the scheme and everything that comes with the game and what they need me to do. As long as I execute and do what I have to do, I think I’ll be all right.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.