Neal sheds more weight in hope of getting faster
The last time Mike Neal stepped onto a scale and saw a number less than 270 came during his days at Merrillville (Ind.) High School.
Coming off his best NFL season, the Green Bay Packers' outside linebacker/defensive lineman is looking a lot more like the former after going into the offseason with the intention of getting faster.
Although he hasn't been able to get on the field yet because of an abdominal injury, it's clear Neal has made another significant change to his 6-foot-3 frame.
Neal, who dropped from 305 pounds to 275 last offseason, said he returned for training camp at 263 pounds, almost the ideal weight for an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' defense.
Neal, 27, trained with Jason Riley at the Performance Compund in Tampa, Fla., as he has every offseason since the NFL Combine in 2010. Neal believes it helped him settle into a weight that better reflects his body type.
"I can eat this way for two weeks and I lost 14 pounds," said Neal, who underwent a detox and power cleanse when he arrived in Tampa. "For me, I think naturally what you're seeing now is probably naturally where my body is at. When you get to college, what's the one thing they preach? We have to get you bigger. We have to get you bigger.
"Now my body is just kind of settling around 270 where it's probably naturally built that."
Neal maintains he didn't have to do anything out of the ordinary. He cut out two of his favorite treats, gummy bears and Doritos, and maybe "sweated a little more" in his workouts.
"As soon as he cut the sugars out, the weight went," Neal said.
For the past two years, Neal's goal has been to eat smarter to better condition himself for the two-point stance. He weighed 294 pounds when the Packers drafted him in the second round and ran a 4.87-second time in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
His switch to outside linebacker gave the Packers' much-need versatility with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry combining to miss 11 games (including playoffs) and breathed fresh air into Neal's career.
Neal's 47 tackles and five sacks were the most of his career and led to the Packers bringing in Julius Peppers to play a similar hybrid elephant role. They hoped to do the same with Perry, but the 2012 first-round pick remains out with a knee/foot injury.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said both Neal and Perry are close to returning. Neal fought through an abdomen injury last season and played in all 16 games. In March, the Packers rewarded him with a two-year, $8 million deal.
The Packers wanted to split Neal's reps evenly between outside linebacker and defensive line last season, but injuries to Matthews and Perry led to Neal seeing more than 660 snaps from the two-point stance.
Neal's weight loss does raise some questions about how feasible it will be to still use him as an interior rusher in sub-packages this year. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' original plan was to use Neal, Perry and Julius Peppers interchangeably from either stance.
Right now, Neal looks more like a linebacker, but his focus at the moment is getting back on the field. Once he does, he hopes his latest weight loss can trigger more good fortune regardless of where his number is called.
"It's hard for me to wake up every single day and come to work and be happy when I can't go on the field. This is what you do. This is your livelihood," Neal said. "This is how you put food on the table. I know it sounds cliché but I'm a competitor. I get goose bumps talking about it. I'm kind of (ticked) about it but what can you do? I've been through this."
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