If there is one thing Mike Neal has proven he can do for the Green Bay Packers defense, it’s rush the passer. Now, the Packers may be trying to maximize that ability because on the first day of organized team activities, the fourth-year defender from Purdue was moved from his customary defensive end position to outside linebacker.
Remembering that it is only OTA’s — the move may not mean a whole lot. It could just be the coaching staff doing their due diligence and getting a player some practice reps at a position where he may to have play in a tight spot. Yet, if there ever was a time to experiment with position moves, it’s right now.
Neal came to the Packers with high expectations after he was selected by the team in the second round of the 2010 Draft — but injuries sidetracked the first two years of his career, then a four-game suspension to start last season set him back even further.
Just when things started looking bleak, Neal took advantage of the opportunity given to him by the Packers last season and actually turned into a fairly productive interior pass-rusher for Green Bay, notching 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles on the season.
The Packers list Neal at 6-3, 294 pounds, yet he clearly was not playing at that weight near the end of last season as he was routinely washed out of the play on run downs by bigger, more physical offensive lineman. Because of this he was limited to only playing in passing situations, which could be a reason why the Packers are experimenting with this switch.
It’s not as if the Packers are in desperate need of help at outside linebacker with Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Dezman Moses in the fold. Yet, there is a lack of proven depth behind those three players and with Perry coming off an injury that limited him to just six games in 2012, Neal could be a solid insurance policy should the injury bug rear it’s ugly head again in 2013.
Here is what Neal had to say to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about playing outside linebacker:
“From my standpoint, I’m a football player,” Neal said. “Coaches ask me to do one thing and that’s what I do. I don’t ask any questions. I just go along with the role they present. So as of right now, if that’s what it is, that’s what it is. I don’t know plans going down the future. I don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. I just know this is where I lined up today. I’m just lining up where they tell me to.”
Neal also talked about his ability to stand up and deal with some of the things required of an outside linebacker like is he comfortable dropping back into coverage:
“No, but I’m comfortable with my athletic ability,” Neal said. “I do believe our defensive linemen, not only do I have defensive linemen skills, but as far as being athletic, I can do that. Even if it’s dropping into coverage, I’ve never doubted my athletic abilities. I feel a lot more agile than I have in the past, a lot more confident in myself.”
At this point, projecting Neal to outside linebacker is a ways off, the Packers need to see what they have in Datone Jones and how Mike Daniels develops in year two before anything should be set in stone. Yet, it sure is an interesting development, which is why we should all pay attention to OTA’s, no matter how boring and irrelevant they may seem.