"You can never, never stop studying the game of football," Neal, the Packers' second-round pick, told the few reporters who weren't swarming around Brandon Underwood or Clay Matthews III on Wednesday. "Peyton Manning, our quarterback at Purdue (Curtis Painter) is over there behind Peyton Manning and said that guy never leaves work. If you want to be great, you can never leave work. I'm here all the time, and I think that it's paying off for me."
Neal, whose known as much for his bench press (510 pounds) as his production (11 sacks in final two seasons) at Purdue, has been doing heavy lifting of a different sort since arriving in Green Bay. It's called his new playbook.
"The first practice, they put in 15 plays and I was like, ‘Man!'" Neal said. "The next practice, they put in 15 more plays and I started counting and I was like, I don't think we even had 30 defenses in college. The thing that they do with their defense is it's a lot more complex. You have to really know your assignment and the person next to you and the linebackers' assignments to really understand what you have to do on each play."
On the field, Neal said he was doing "OK," with his level of play improving as he got a better grasp of the complex defensive scheme. Neal hasn't turned many heads during organized team activities, but the play in the trenches is impossible to gauge when the players are wearing only helmets and shoulder pads and full-speed hitting is barred by the league this time of year.
What is apparent is that Neal isn't just some big, muscle-bound guy who can't move. Just like the team said on draft weekend, Neal's combination of strength and athleticism should get him into the rotation from the get-go — especially on passing downs, when the Packers got almost nothing from anyone other than Cullen Jenkins among their defensive linemen.
"You can squat 600, 700 pounds. That's easy to go in the weight room and squat 600," Neal said, obviously forgetting who he was talking to. "That's easy, but can you sink your hips and get up under the guy like you're supposed to? You squat and you squat and you squat, it's good for power but you lose flexibility in your hips, which doesn't allow you to be explosive off the line of scrimmage. I think you have to translate it to a flexibility standpoint and learn how to use your explosive movements. Squat is similar to getting down in a four-point stance and coming off and into a blocker, but can you use that and generate the force that you need?"
Ever since he was drafted, every storyline involving Neal has been on his strength. Packer Report asked Neal if he ever gets sick of talking about being strong.
"Yeah, I get tired of talking about it all the time," he said. "I try to turn it into a positive. People are saying, ‘You're strong, you're strong, you're strong.' Well, I'm strong on the football field, too. I think learning how to use those explosive movements on the football field definitely help me out. I get tired of talking about it, but if that's what people want to know me for now, that's fine, but they're going to see me as more than just a weight room guy."
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