1) Introduction: Eyebrows were raised during training camp when it was revealed that the Green Bay Packers were giving Mike Neal, formerly a defensive end in their 3-4 defense, a shot to perform at outside linebacker. After years of showing potential only to be derailed by some sort of an injury, Neal was a man on a mission in training camp and was determined to prove what everyone thought about him (when healthy) was justified. Moving Neal to outside linebacker seemed like a crazy move but given how badly the Packers needed a pass rush, they were willing to try anything
2) Profile: Mike Neal
- Age: 26
- Born: 06/26/1987 in Gary, IN
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 285
- College: Purdue
- Rookie Year: 2010
- NFL Experience: 4 years
- Career Stats and more
3) Expectations coming into the season: Even before the news about moving Neal to outside linebacker, this was shaping up to be a make-or-break year for him. He missed all but nine games his first two years in the league and was considered by many to be an injury risk. 2012 was much better as Neal saw action in 11 of the 16 games but he still missed time but this time because of a substance abuse suspension. If he could just stay healthy, he could be the missing piece in the Packers finally establishing a consistent pass rush. However, as he adjusts to his new role as an OLB, it was unclear how successful the move might be and what growing pains Neal might encounter. The initial plan was to have Neal split time between linebacker and subpackage lineman.
4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Neal notched his first career interception in Week 2 against the Redskins and forced a critical fumble in the Packers’ come from behind 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14. Neal struggled against the Vikings in the 26-26 tie in Week 12 and not stopping Adrian Peterson was a big reason the Packers couldn’t get the win against the lowly Vikings.
5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Like with most of the other linebackers, the plan with Neal got blown up thanks to the widespread injuries at the position. That however turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Neal stayed healthy for a full season for the first time in his career and started 10 games. He set a career high with five sacks and did a better job in his first season at linebacker than many thought he would. The fact that he remained healthy and entire season exceeded many people’s expectations. Neal had a team-high 46 rushes in 2013 but still has work to do as a pass rusher. As mentioned above, he also struggled in coverage and against the run.
6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Neal had only one tackle against the San Francisco 49ers in the wild card loss and the linebackers struggled as a whole to contain Colin Kaepernick. Neal also showed some liability again in pass coverage.
Season Report Card:
(B+) Level of expectations met during the season
(B) Contributions to team’s overall success.
(C-) Contributions to team during the playoffs
Overall Grade: B——————
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