GREEN BAY — When Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Mike Neal played at Purdue University, he posted several weightlifting records, including a 510-pound bench press and a 615-pound squat. However, to this point, he hasn’t been able to pull his weight.
“The only response I can give you is I am great,” Neal said.
Neal means it, but it’s hard to believe. The Packers second-round draft pick in 2010 has missed 23 of 32 regular season games because of injury and ineffectiveness.
Last year, the chiseled 6’3, 294-pounder was supposed to step in for Cullen Jenkins, who was allowed to fly off to the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent. Often, Neal wasn’t available and when he was, he didn’t measure up, and the Packers defense suffered.
In March, Neal was suspended for four games for what he says was his use of Adderall to treat attention deficit disorder. He is appealing that suspension.
“I’ve been through a lot and I’m satisfied. I’m satisfied with the it panned out. You can’t help the hand that you’ve been dealt. I know I say this, and it may sound cliche, but God’s got a plan for everybody. You can’t call it. You don’t know how it’s gonna work out. I didn’t plan on coming here and everything working out this way but, I feel good. I am excited and I am happy, and I’m not mad. I feel great and I’m just having a ball,” Neal said.
Neal knows there are many people who feel he’ll never be the player the Packers thought he would be when they drafted him in the second round out of Purdue in 2010. Don’t count Coach Mike McCarthy among them.
“Definitely I think Mike’s a different man today than he was when he came back from the injury in training camp. He is more explosive. He is in great shape and he’s driven. He has been humbled — he’s gone through some challenges and I am hopeful and I think he will continue to grow from the situations he’s been through,” McCarthy said.
“There’s a lot of people who have probably turned their backs on me and say ‘he needs to be traded’ or ‘he needs to be out of here,’ and I just hear so much stuff, but when you hear all that stuff and you deal with what I dealt with, your confidence starts becoming low, and to prove to myself that I belong here and this is where I need to be is everything,” Neal said.
At times, Number 96 may have been tempted to feel like an outcast, but the fact that those he goes to battle with have been on his side has helped Neal keep his spirits from sagging.
“My teammates have always had my back — especially my defensive line. We’re so close-knit that no matter what happens, everything that I’ve been through, they’ve been the first to know. They have been the first ones I text and the words of encouragement I get from them is greatly appreciated,” Neal said.
“I think that God touches everybody’s character. I think that no matter what happens, God puts you in a situation that he thinks you can handle, and I’ve handled my situation very well, and I think that he’s pleased, and there is more bright things for me in the future, to come,” Neal said.
Football is in Neal’s blood. His father – also named Mike, was a two-time all-conference defensive tackle at Weber State, who went to training camp with the New York Giants back in 1988.