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Neal Brings Versatility To Defensive Line

The Packers set a franchise record for run defense in 2009 and led the NFL in that category for the first time in team history, and on Friday night they added another player to their defensive-line rotation with the selection of Purdue lineman Mike Neal in the second round (No. 56 overall). - More Draft Page


The Packers set a franchise record for run defense in 2009 and led the NFL in that category for the first time in team history, and on Friday night they added another player to their defensive-line rotation with the selection of Purdue lineman Mike Neal in the second round (No. 56 overall).

Neal, who started 23 of his final 24 games for the Boilermakers at left defensive tackle in their 4-3 scheme, recorded a career-best 35 tackles (20 solo) as a senior, including a career-high 11" tackles for loss, and ranked second on the team with 5" sacks for the second straight year.

"I'm a hard-nosed football player," Neal said. "I know that I can get off the ball and I can get some blockers and knock them off the line of scrimmage, and I think that I'm a tough football player. I think that's what I'll bring to the Packers, another added dimension to a good defensive line."

Although most of his snaps at Purdue came at tackle, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Neal "definitely" projects as a defensive end in coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.

"He played the 'three technique' at Purdue," Trgovac said. "If you look at our defense, we probably play 'three technique' half the time.

"He's very strong at the point. When he got a one-on-one base block, he very seldom lost that block, and was able to get off and make plays. I think with what we do, asking guys to parallel their stance a little bit, get their hands on players, we're not a defense that just flies up the line of scrimmage with their defensive tackles like some other teams do. This guy did a very nice job of getting his hands on players, and is very fundamentally sound that way."

The 'three technique' lines up between the guard and tackle, not on the outside shoulder of the tackle that a 'five technique' plays. In addition to playing end, Trgovac said Neal has the ability to slide inside to rush the passer when the Packers go to their sub packages, something veteran starters Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins did quite a bit of last season.

"He's a good inside rusher," Trgovac said. "He's got some things to work on as far as technique, but athletically he's very good. So we'll work on him with some technique things. He's a guy that can beat you with quickness. He's got good quick first steps, and I'll teach him some nice counter moves off of that.

"He'll be a guy that can help us in both areas, and that's kind of what we were looking for. Not just a guy that was a pass rusher and not just a guy that was a run player. I think he'll be able help us in both areas. One of the best things he did, in their movement defense, he did a very good job of moving to the inside or moving to the outside. If you watch us play, we do a ton of that. A lot of things that we do on the field, we saw on his tape."

The 6-foot-3, 294-pound Neal ran a 4.89 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but is known most for his strength, evidenced by several weightlifting records set during his time at Purdue. He posted 31 reps (at 225 pounds) in the bench press at the combine and also benched 510 pounds prior to his senior season, strength that showed up on the field as well.

"He's got a short-area strike to him that he can get some push back on guys, push the pocket back, create some movement up there," Packers assistant director of college scouting Shaun Herock said. "With that short punch, he's got that short area to avoid and make miss and get penetration. He's got a good combination of power and quicks to use to get to the quarterback."

Both Trgovac and Herock were impressed with how rarely Neal came off the field during his college career, with Neal estimating that he sometimes played 80-plus snaps in games.

"When you watch a defensive lineman in college football nowadays, that's hard to do because they leave for large stretches of time," Trgovac said. "A lot of these guys that got drafted ahead of him, you'd watch the game and they would be out for seven or eight plays. This kid very seldom left the game, so he's got great stamina."

Neal said he was surprised to be selected by the Packers, pointing to the fact that he didn't remember having any conversations with any of Green Bay's coaches. Trgovac said that isn't unique because the coaching staff rarely has much contact with prospects leading up to the draft, and Herock said the team had been following Neal's career the past two years.

{sportsad300}In addition to Neal's play at Purdue, his performance at both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl also caught the team's eye as he went head-to-head with fellow draft prospects.

"He was very impressive in the all-star games practices and in the games themselves when they are going against all seniors and guys that are getting drafted at the same time," GM Ted Thompson said. "We think he fits very well into our system. He played defensive tackle mostly in college. He's almost ideally suited to play the 3-4 defensive end."

Neal will be joining a defensive-end group that includes incumbent starters Jolly and Jenkins, second-year players B.J. Raji (who also plays nose tackle) and Jarius Wynn, along with fourth-year man Justin Harrell, who has battled back injuries for most of the last two seasons.

Trgovac said you can "never have enough players" along the line, especially when injuries occur. The Packers dealt with that last season with Harrell spending the entire year on injured reserve and Raji and starting nose tackle Ryan Pickett also missing games, which forced Jolly and Jenkins to sometimes play high snap counts in games.

"You just have to have more players, more quality players so when someone does get dinged then your final product doesn't diminish," Thompson said. "You stay at the same level, and that's what we're trying to do and that's what every other team in the NFL is trying to do. You can't just trot your 22 guys out there."

Neal's role in his first year will become clearer as the regular season gets closer, but he is hoping to make an impact on an already talented Green Bay front.

"My goal as a rookie is to play as much as I can and come in and contribute to the team," Neal said. "If they drafted me this high, then they think of me being able to come in and work my butt off and get on the field. I definitely want to get in and contribute as a rookie."

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