Mike Neal has been back from an abdomen injury for a week and is starting to show he might fit well into a hybrid role as an inside pass rusher and outside linebacker in coordinator Dom Capers’ defensive scheme. Neal, who dropped his weight from the low 290s to the 275-pound range to make the switch to part-time outside linebacker, stood out on several plays in Wednesday’s padded practice. During a team run period, he blew up two runs from the outside linebacker position. Later, in a third-down, red-zone drill, he dropped into coverage and tackled receiver Alex Gillett immediately after the catch to hold him short of a first down on a third-and-5 from the 9. In one-on-one pass-rushing drills, he showed good quickness as an inside rusher. He actually lost his first two reps rushing as an outside linebacker against tackles Don Barclay and Kevin Hughes, but then decisively beat Patrick Lewis with a spin move and Garth Gerhart with a quick, low burst at the snap. At this point, there’s reason to think Neal can play some at both positions and give Capers extra flexibility to confuse quarterbacks. “Today was probably the first time we saw what we were hoping he’s about,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Neal. “His ability to be a difference maker as far as ability to put him in one-on-one situations and for him to win, and to win consistently. I think Mike had his best practice today of training camp.”
The Packers’ secondary as a whole put up little resistance against the No. 1 offense in a no-huddle drill to end practice. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers started at his 30 and in seven plays had the offense in the end zone. It started on the first play, when tight end Jermichael Finley beat cornerback Micah Hyde on a seam route for an 18-yard gain. Later, cornerback Davon House, who gave up two big plays last week against Arizona, allowed three straight completions for 36 yards that ended the period, all to receiver James Jones. That included a 22-yarder for a touchdown when Jones ran past House and was wide open in the seam between the cornerback and safety Morgan Burnett. The drill favors the offense because there’s no hitting the quarterback, but this was too easy.
Did you notice?
• Receiver Jeremy Ross had been working as the personal protector for Tim Masthay on the No. 1 punt team the first two weeks of camp, but fullback John Kuhn has filled that role this week. Kuhn held that job the past couple of seasons.
Ross remained on the No. 1 cover team as a wing blocker. Shawn Slocum, the Packers’ special teams coach, said he is cross training the two in case it could help with a matchup against a specific opponent. Ross at 215 pounds is about as small a personal protector as Slocum is willing to use. But the advantage of using him is his speed as a cover man.
“He can end up being a third gunner,” Slocum said. “If they don’t line up with eight guys in the box, then they’re turning somebody loose. And if they’re doubling a gunner outside and slowing him down, you’ve got to get the advantage from the inside. That’s the way the league is now. You’re seeing skill guys playing the wing positions and the (personal protector) position.”
• Defensive lineman Mike Daniels has been one of the best rushers this camp in one-on-one drills and had an especially strong day against backup linemen Wednesday. He went 3-0 with overwhelming bull rushes against Lewis and Gerhart twice. Daniels is 14-16 for camp.
• Hyde made one of the more spectacular plays in camp on an interception Wednesday. In a red-zone period, he leaped and tipped a pass from B.J. Coleman to receiver Myles White on a corner route. Hyde landed on his back and caught the ball as it dropped onto his chest.
• Graham Harrell had one of his best plays of the summer on a touchdown pass in a red zone period. Harrell was chased out of the pocket to his left, snapped around his shoulders and hit receiver Tyrone Walker at the pylon against tight coverage from Burnett.
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