Mike Neal’s chances of playing this Sunday against Detroit are doubtful, but it’s a much better prognosis than the one Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was bracing for.
On Wednesday, McCarthy didn’t seem overly optimistic when addressing the shoulder injury the third-year defensive lineman sustained during last Sunday’s 23-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings, but admited not all of the information had been collected.
It raised into question if the shoulder injury was of the same severity as the one that ended Neal’s rookie season in 2010, sparking the newest chapter in a career that’s been hampered by one injury or another.
However, moments after Neal was officially listed as doubtful for Sunday, McCarthy indicated the long-term outlook isn’t as dire as anticipated, but both the status of Neal and offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle) remains suspect for Sunday.
“The news was good news, based on what you fear,” McCarthy said on Friday. “But he’s not doing very well (Friday) as far as testing. We’re going to give both T.J. and Mike Neal every chance to play in the game. We’ll probably know more (today), and obviously we’ll have to react to that (today) to make the roster move if needed.”
With defensive lineman C.J. Wilson (knee) already ruled out, that could leave the Packers with only four defensive linemen if Neal isn’t available and a corresponding roster move isn’t made.
In that case, all hope may not necessarily be lost. In their 24-20 win over Detroit three weeks ago, the Packers stayed in their sub-package defense with only one or two linemen throughout.
That could again work in their favor against the pass-happy Lions without Wilson and possibly Neal on Sunday and two rookies, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, backing up veterans Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji.
“Obviously this is a team we’ve played a lot of nickel against, but they can dictate that too with their personnel they put out there,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “You just have to keep mixing guys and keep them fresh. We had this situation a couple years ago with Minnesota. Where we lost Cullen (Jenkins), we activated him and lost him before the game started, we lost him in warm-ups. We’ve been there before.”
If Neal is out and the Packers decide to add a fifth defensive linemen, a likely candidate would be first-year defensive lineman Jordan Miller, who’s been on the practice squad since Oct. 23 and can play both end and tackle.
“I had a long talk with him (Friday) about making sure he’s not in practice-squad mode – that he’s learning the defenses,” Trgovac said. “Some guys get on the practice squad and they sit there and watch everything but they don’t hear and listen to everything. I like Jordan Miller as a football player. Now, I’ve never seen him in a game so that remains to be seen, but he’s a good football player.”