After playing 31 snaps in the Green Bay Packers’ 23-14 win over Minnesota two weeks ago, Mike Neal went back to the locker room and couldn’t move his shoulder.
Once his adrenaline stopped – nothing. No luck forward or backward.
The 6-foot-3, 294-pound defensive end didn’t show up on the team’s post-game injury report, but his initial prognosis didn't appear promising when Packers coach Mike McCarthy addressed the media last Wednesday.
Neal never practiced last week, but by the time Friday came around, he was able to move it slightly. He was listed as doubtful for last Sunday’s game against Detroit, which at least gave McCarthy a glamour of hope it wasn’t going to be more severe.
Neal still wasn't certain about the shoulder to start the week, but decided to give it a shot on Wednesday, returning to practice in a limited capacity to aid a defensive line that was limited to only four active members in Sunday’s 27-20 win over the Lions.
Afterward, he felt fine, providing him with some relief after shoulder and knee injuries limited him to only nine games over his first two NFL seasons.
“You get hurt a couple times in this league, you feel like you're injury-stricken,” Neal said. “I didn't know if it looked so good last week. Quite honestly, I didn't know if it looked that good this week either but I’m like I want to play bad enough so I'm going to take my chances. I went out there and practiced, and it felt like there wasn’t anything wrong with it. That’s a good thing. I felt good. I was moving around good.”
Neal has seven tackles and two sacks in the eight games he’s played since returning from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (he claims he tested positive for Adderall).
When healthy and available, Neal has played a large role in the team’s nickel and dime sub-packages and was filling in occasionally in its base 3-4 defense with C.J. Wilson still out indefinitely with a knee injury.
After being limited to only nine games over his first two NFL seasons because of injury, Neal’s hopeful he’ll be able to play in Sunday’s game against Chicago.
A native of Gary, Ind., Neal grew up about 30 miles from Soldier Field, but hasn’t been able play there yet because of a shoulder injury his rookie year and last season because of his knee.
“That was like my backyard,” Neal said. “I’m from Gary, so to be able to play against those guys, for me finally for the first time in three years at Soldier Field will mean a lot to me, so hopefully I get a chance to do that.”
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