Mike Neal: outside linebacker.
Of all the news that has come out of Green Bay during OTAs, this is the one newsworthy item that stands out above the rest.
The concept of this is difficult to grasp. How could a 294 pound defensive lineman go from playing with his hand in the dirt to rushing the passer from a standing position, playing in space when necessary?
It might be a case of Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers making an effort to salvage Neal’s career.
Since entering the league as a second round draft choice in 2010, Neal’s production has been far less than what one would expect from a high draft selection. Twelve tackles and 5 1/2 sacks in a total of 17 games played is not exactly what the Packers envisioned from someone drafted as high as he was.
Injuries have plagued Neal since he was a rookie. Playing in just two games as a rookie and seven in his sophomore season, Neal was finally able to stay somewhat healthy in 2012 (even though he was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy) and responded with his best season. Eleven tackles and 4 1/2 sacks in eleven games. Not exactly numbers that jump off the page, but a huge improvement from the 4 tackles and 1 sack Neal had in his fist two seasons COMBINED.
And now he is learning how to play outside linebacker.
Perhaps McCarthy and Capers see something that others don’t see or can’t yet see with the idea of playing Neal outside. Even Neal himself sounded a little surprised when asked about it at the start of OTAs:
There is no long term…This is OTA’s and it’s just them getting a feel for something. If I knew I would tell you. I have no clue.
From my standpoint, I’m a football player…Coaches ask me to do one thing and that’s what I do. I don’t ask any questions. I just go along with the role they present. So as of right now, if that’s what it is, that’s what it is. I don’t know plans going down the future. I don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. I just know this is where I lined up today. I’m just lining up where they tell me to.
If nothing else, Neal has the right attitude about the change. Do what the coaches ask of you, and make every effort to learn a new position. Even if the move sounds crazy.
Everyone remembers the attempted conversion of Aaron Kampman from defensive end to outside linebacker during Capers’ first season in Green Bay. Everyone hopefully remembers just how painful it was watching someone who was so good rushing the quarterback from the down position, to being so very bad doing it from standing up. And everyone should also remember just how awkward it was watching a 265 pound former defensive lineman drop back into coverage.
Trying to convert Mike Neal from defensive lineman to outside linebacker smacks of Aaron Kampman 2.0: trying to convert a player to a new position that he has no business playing. At least not yet.
And that is just plain crazy.
Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers are paid to make the decisions that are best for the Packers. They determine the course of action which will hopefully bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay. Moving Mike Neal may wind up being the best thing for the Packers and his career. It might be able to salvage a somewhat disappointing career thus far, and be a crucial move necessary to improve the defense.
Or, it might be just a little crazy.
Time will tell.
John Rehor is a writer at PackersTalk.com and co-host of Cheesehead Radio. To contact John follow him on Twitter @jrehor or email firstname.lastname@example.org