One week of the 2011 season is in the books, and already one potential key Green Bay Packer is out for an extended period of time.
During his afternoon press conference today, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy announced that defensive end Mike Neal, the hopeful replacement for the departed Cullen Jenkins, recently underwent a surgical procedure on his injured knee.
McCarthy said that while Neal will miss “significant time,” which usually is a harbinger that the player is headed to injured reserve, he does not think Neal’s 2011 season is lost. That said, if injuries continue to pile up (again), the Packers may have to put him on IR in order to clear roster space.
This is a heartbreaking development for the young defensive lineman. Neal showed promise last season before landing on injured reserve and anyone who followed him on Twitter (@mneal96) knows how eager he was to get back on the field this year.
These developments immediately call into concern GM Ted Thompson’s decision not to resign Jenkins this season. While he was oft injured himself, the Packers have some depth issues along the defensive line and even if Jenkins was beat out by Neal there would still be some veteran insurance on the bench.
Jarius Wynn is expected to get the start in place of Neal for the long haul. Wynn had a solid preseason, but Neal had such potential and a big upswing that it will be hard to replace. Then again, as we saw with the 2010 team, the ability of defensive coordinator Dom Capers to plug guys into his defense and not miss a beat is uncanny.
As for my opinion, Neal is toeing the line on being labeled “injury prone.” I’m not ready to call him “Justin Harrell with potential” just yet, but he has to stay healthy if he hopes to make any kind of impact in the league. As for the hindsight review of letting Jenkins walk, with his past injuries, I’m not sure it would have been much of an improvement. When healthy, Jenkins was one of the best in the NFL, but that wasn’t on a very consistent basis.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke