So, when the Green Bay Packers' superb defensive line coach sings the praises of second-round pick Neal and seventh-round pick C.J. Wilson, it's worth taking note.
"Let me tell you something: I've been so impressed with those two kids," Trgovac told Packer Report recently. "No. 1, their work ethic, how serious they are about football and how much it means to them. I'm just telling you, in all my years coaching on the D-line, I've had guys that have been serious, don't get me wrong, but they are very serious about their work, and that's a pleasure to coach that. They're very serious about their assignments. I'm not going to say they're not going to blow any but they're putting the time in and the effort in to make this football team. I really like what I see with those two and how they're developing that relationship."
As draft picks at the same position, it was only natural that they'd become training camp roommates. It's been a match made in heaven — pardon the pun.
"He tells me all the time, he's like, ‘I really appreciate that God put me in this situation here with you because I see how you work and I see what you're doing and it's definitely helping me,'" Neal said. "In the same respect, I think we were put in this position to help each other. I think that God puts everybody in a position that's favorable to them if they really seek God. We have that common denominator. When I'm down on myself, he knows how to get me revved up. That's going back to the Scripture. That's how we've built our life. I feel like I've been knowing him for years."
Heading into Saturday's second preseason game at Seattle, Neal not only is a lock to make the team but appears on course to be the primary backup to starting ends Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins. Neal entered the league known mostly for his strength, and he put that on display during one second-quarter passing play last week, when he bull-rushed the Browns' guard about 5 yards into the backfield in the blink of an eye.
While Neal will be a staple in the base defense, what they really need is for him to be an impact player in nickel to boost the pass rush. It's a given that Pickett won't be a key player in nickel, because he offers almost zero pass rush. That puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of Jenkins and nose tackle B.J. Raji. Jenkins is a fantastic player, especially when fresh, but his full-throttle playing style lends to him getting fatigued. Raji was a part-time player as a rookie, so it's impossible to say if he can handle the load at nose tackle and be an effective rusher in passing situations. So, the Packers need Neal, who had 5.5 sacks in each of his junior and senior seasons, to carry some of that burden.
"Neal is very strong, just like B.J. is," Trgovac said. "It allows us to keep fresher guys in there. He didn't come out of college with a bunch of moves. He had more of the power stuff in there. He's got enough of the quickness, he's a 295 kid in there where he can work some of the quicker moves in there, and sometimes he relies on power a little too much, and that's the work that we have with him, to slap a guy's hands, to wipe his hands, work your power to speed. There's 35 pounds difference between him and B.J., so he can work some of those other things, and that's the work that he needs to get done, because in college he didn't really do a whole lot of that. He relies on his strength so much."
Wilson's pass-rushing production at East Carolina stood out to scouts. He had 27 sacks over his four seasons, including 10.5 as a junior. That potential hasn't come to fruition often enough, which is why he's fighting for a roster spot.
"He's getting better," Trgovac said. "It's a little bit different than what he did in college but I've seen improvement from C.J. every day. He's a big kid, he can run, a lot of physical things I like about him. The only thing I think he needs to keep working on more is when you're in an Okie defense (base 3-4) and you're not a guy who's just taking off off the snap and you're reading stuff and then moving like we do in Okie, his reaction's just a little bit off right now, but it's improved 100 percent since the first day. That's just a simple thing of repetition."
Wilson has risen to the occasion before. He was academically ineligible for his freshman season at East Carolina. Remarkably, Wilson made the honor roll three times, dean's list once and earned his degree in 3.5 years. He's as proud of that accomplishment as he is anything he did on the football field.
"I was one of the people who you tell me what to do and I'll do it," he said.
Working alongside and rooming with Neal have helped, even though Wilson complains about Neal's snoring.
"He's cool. Mike Neal, he's a character," Wilson said. "He actually makes me a better play. I tell him that all the time. I see how he approaches different things and I take that approach. My dad used to always say, ‘Get the good out of everything and spit the bad out.' There's not too much bad with Mike. He's a good guy, he works hard and he pushes me to work harder."
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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.