Healthy Neal making most of second chance

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Rajion Neal hopes to make the cut as the Packers’ third running back.

You can't put a statistic on the satisfaction Rajion Neal felt walking out of Gillette Stadium on Thursday night.

His performance – four carries for 15 yards – wasn't as good as last year's preseason opener in Tennessee – five for 39 yards and a touchdown – but the Green Bay Packers' first-year running back will gladly take this year's outcome.

The former Tennessee standout was off to a great start to camp last summer before tearing his medial collateral ligament on a kickoff return against the Titans. He didn't play the rest of the preseason and was released after reaching an injury settlement.

"I mean it's a good feeling, man," Neal said. "Definitely just to say I was able to walk off the field after this first preseason (game). I got some good feedback from the coaches. Didn't really do much, but the little bit that was asked of me, they said I executed well and did what was coached."

Neal returned to the Packers on the practice squad in November where he finished out his rookie season. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound running back re-signed on a futures deal shortly after the season and set his sights on winning the No. 3 running back job his injury denied in 2014.

Now, he's excited to show what he can do when fully healthy. Back on the practice field Monday, Neal continued to take third-team reps behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks. He still faces a tough battle with rookies Aaron Ripkowski, Alonzo Harris and John Crockett all competing for a spot on the 53-man roster, too.

To prevail, Neal knows he'll need to show he can add another dimension to the running game. He believes his shifty running style and catching ability out of the backfield offer a change of pace to the punishing style of Lacy and Starks.

Neal started as a receiver with the Volunteers before moving to running back his junior year. That versatility showed Saturday when he split out wide and caught a deep over-the-shoulder pass from quarterback Matt Blanchard over the coverage of fourth-year safety Sean Richardson.

"I'm hungry," Neal said. "At the end of the day, I feel good. I'm healthy. I way more familiar with the scheme, the coaches, the players, the mindset they're in and what they're looking for, the checks, audibles. The more opportunities, the more I'm going to make of them.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what's coached of me, play my game and let the chips fall where they may."

Thirteen sit out

The Packers had 13 players sit out of the 11th practice of training camp on Saturday, the most since camp started a little more than two weeks ago.

Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari and defensive end Josh Boyd were among those absences due to knee injuries they sustained against the Patriots. Bakhtiari looked no worse for wear on Thursday night after taking all 33 snaps with the first-team offense.

Boyd sat out of the offseason program recovering knee surgery, but was cleared in time for training camp. Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke before practice, so it's uncertain how severe either injury is. Both Bakhtiari and Boyd were in attendance.

The Packers were also without defensive linemen Letroy Guion (hamstring) and Mike Daniels (ankle), outside linebacker Nick Perry (groin), defensive backs Damarious Randall (groin), Tay Glover-Wright (hamstring), Demetri Goodson (calf) and Kyle Sebetic (ankle), tight end Justin Perillo (concussion), and receivers Javess Blue (shoulder), Adrian Coxson (concussion) and Jared Abbrederis (concussion).

Abbrederis hasn't practiced since dropping out early in the first practice of training camp.

"He's making progress," McCarthy said. "He's still going through the protocol. There's a number of tests you have to go through, and he hasn't completed them."

Extra points, literally

-Mike McCarthy wants to get as much work in as possible on two-point conversions this preseason to prepare for the NFL moving extra-point kicks back to the 33-yard line.

It doesn't matter if it's his own offense or the opponent, adding that he hopes the team's next three exhibition foes – Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Philadelphia – go for it every time.

The Packers unsuccessfully went for two on each of their first two touchdowns against New England before allowing Mason Crosby to kick the 33-yard extra point in the third quarter. New England converted a two-point try on an end-around after scoring its only touchdown.

"That situation needs more work," said McCarthy, whose team was 1-of-4 on two-point conversions last season (including playoffs). "You have to apply more attention to it just from the simple fact you look at it from a defensive perspective they now have an opportunity to score, so you need to practice that. We're going to as many two-point conversions as we can throughout the preseason. But I'm also sensitive to the fact to make sure Mason and (holder) Tim (Masthay) and the extra-point operation has their opportunity."

The Packers are cognizant of how important it will be to execute and defend two-point conversions with how poor the weather could potentially be in December, a notion quarterback Aaron Rodgers presented last week when talking with the media.

"We live in Green Bay, Wisconsin; it's something you definitely look at differently early in the season as opposed to late in the year," McCarthy said. "I think that's an obvious viewpoint there. We're not going to wait until December to practice it."

-Amidst a sea of receivers, Larry Pinkard keeps finding ways to get noticed.

After hauling in a 31-yard pass from Brett Hundley on Thursday, the 6-foot, 196-pound rookie caught back-to-back passes from the UCLA quarterback during the only two plays of Saturday's two-minute series - a 47-yard reception over the coverage of second-round pick Quinten Rollins and an 8-yard touchdown catch.

"It's something we've basically worked on or talk about every day on the practice field and in the classroom," Pinkard said. "He came out, I saw him with a receiver underneath me and we connected.

"I think it's pretty big because it tells your quarterback you're getting open."

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