A week ago at this time, the Green Bay Packers didn’t have a clue whether or not Mike Neal would be healthy enough to see a single down against the Cleveland Browns.
The night before the 31-13 victory, however, the converted outside linebacker cleared himself from a shoulder bruise and he wound up playing 35 snaps the next day.
On Friday, things got a bit more surprising when second-year outside linebacker Nick Perry made an improbable return to practice field, less than two weeks after reportedly suffering a broken foot that would sideline him indefinitely.
Although Neal was available, the Packers had a pair of rookies, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer, make their first career starts against Cleveland.
Now, there appears to be a chance they could have Perry back this Sunday against Minnesota or at least in the near future.
“Last week I wasn’t sure we’d have Mike Neal and Mike Neal played some, so you always hold out hope until the game comes,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see, I think Nick’s felt better, he’s progressing all week. … Sometimes you might take a guy right up to game time before you have to turn in the inactive list.”
Even if Perry doesn’t play – he’s listed as questionable – this is good news for a Packers’ pass rush already missing Clay Matthews, who’s expected to miss a few more weeks as he recovers from a broken thumb he sustained earlier this month against Detroit.
A first-round pick in 2012, Perry had been playing well in Matthews’ absence before injuring his foot on a sack of Joe Flacco near the end of the first half of an eventual 19-17 win over Baltimore.
Perry played a handful of snaps the rest of the game and said his ankle was a bit sore after the game in the locker room. The following day, WDUZ radio in Green Bay and WTMJ in Milwaukee reported the breakage.
In injury of that magnitude could’ve sidelined him for months, but he appeared on the sideline at practice without a boot on Thursday before taking a few team snaps in the portion of practice available to the media.
"Nick was in a very limited role today. Didn’t want to overdo it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “So we’ll see how feels and hopefully get ready for Sunday night. … We’re just following the rehab schedule. In communication with Nick he said he said he’s doing everything he can to be ready for Sunday.”
Without Matthews and Perry, the Packers’ pass rush has taken many forms over the past few weeks. A.J. Hawk had a career-high three sacks against Baltimore. Against the Browns, Jamari Lattimore had the first of his career with defensive lineman Mike Daniels notching one, as well.
If Perry could return either this Sunday or the following week against Chicago, it would provide another component to a defense that’s still tied for eighth in the NFL with 20 sacks despite playing without Matthews.
“That’s better than three,” said outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene with a smile. “If it’s three, then we have a pair and a spare. If we get four, then that’s getting some of my weapons back. Getting Clay back here in a few weeks we hope and then I’ll get a full complement of weapon systems to bring to bear.”
-email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.