Neal, who has been out since straining some muscles near his rib cage prior to the regular-season opener, went through a full, non-padded practice for the second time in the last two weeks on Thursday.
Last week when he accomplished that, he woke up the next morning unable to practice a second straight day and was subsequently held out of his third consecutive game. But after Thursday's practice, Neal said comparatively speaking he feels much better.
"Last week when I walked off the field, I was actually sore," Neal said. "But I thought that was just going to be a natural reaction. I thought it was going to be sore just from running around out there. Today I'm not even sore. I feel fine. Halfway through practice last week, I was getting a little sore. But this week, going through practice, I feel fine. I doubt I'll wake up with any pain, honestly."
That would be great news for a Green Bay defensive line that has needed B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett to take almost all the snaps through the first three weeks following Justin Harrell's season-ending knee injury in the opener at Philadelphia. Reserves Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson have played only sparingly the past two games.
Coming out of training camp, Neal was considered the No. 4 lineman and potentially a key contributor as an inside rusher in the nickel package, which the Packers used almost exclusively in the first and third games. That remains the most likely place he'll be slotted in the rotation once he returns.
Missing so much time due to injury has been eating Neal up inside, which is evident in the angst in his voice every time he talks about it. As a four-year letterman at Purdue, he didn't miss a game over his final three seasons after sitting out five games as a redshirt freshman in 2006 with turf toe.
"It's more than frustrating to me," Neal said. "This is what they pay you for, to come here and play football. If I can't play football, it makes me feel worthless, and I don't want to have that worthless feeling. It (stinks). Injuries (stink). But it's part of the game, and it's a good thing the coaches understand that. They're working with me, and they feel confident I'll be back, and I feel confident I'll be back. It's more than frustrating, though."
With the Lions announcing that backup quarterback Shaun Hill will start on Sunday at Lambeau Field for the injured Matthew Stafford, Green Bay will try to make Hill the 12th different starting quarterback – and the fourth in the last four years – to fall victim to the Packers during their current 19-game winning streak over Detroit in games played in Wisconsin.
The home-soil streak, which dates back to a 1992 contest at Milwaukee County Stadium and includes a 1994 NFC Wild Card playoff game, has spanned eight Lions head coaches and 11 starting quarterbacks. The Detroit quarterback with the most starts during the streak was Scott Mitchell with four, followed by Joey Harrington with three.
Incidentally, Stafford didn't play at Lambeau Field last year either as a rookie, missing the game with an injury.
The complete list of Detroit starters during the streak: Rodney Peete (1992-93), Mitchell (1994-95, '97-98), Dave Krieg (1994 playoffs), Don Majkowski (1996), Gus Frerotte (1999), Charlie Batch (2000-01), Harrington (2002-04), Jeff Garcia (2005), Jon Kitna (2006-07), Dan Orlovsky (2008) and Daunte Culpepper (2009).
The list grows to 13 if it includes quarterbacks who came on in relief during games – Andre Ware in 1992 and Drew Stanton in 2009. The Packers, of course, have had just two starting quarterbacks during the streak in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
Some other interesting tidbits about this group of Detroit signal callers…
--Four are still on active rosters in the NFL: Batch (Pittsburgh), Kitna (Dallas), Orlovsky (Houston) and Stanton (Detroit).
--Four suffered losses to the Packers in Wisconsin as starting quarterbacks for other teams, including one in Peete who did so with two different squads (Philadelphia, Carolina). The others were Culpepper (Minnesota), Garcia (San Francisco), and Krieg (Chicago).
--Four posted victories for other teams against the Packers as starting quarterbacks in Wisconsin. They were Culpepper (Minnesota), Kitna (Seattle), Batch (Pittsburgh), and Krieg (Seattle).
--The one with the most victories in Wisconsin is, obviously, Majkowski, the former Packers quarterback who started 50 games for Green Bay between 1987 and 1992.
One final thing … the last Detroit quarterback to beat the Packers in Wisconsin was Erik Kramer on Dec. 15, 1991, at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay starter in that loss was Mike Tomczak. Both of them also played for the Bears at different times in their careers. But Kramer was 0-2 as Chicago's starter at Lambeau, while the Bears won Tomczak's lone start for Chicago in Green Bay in 1986, but Tomczak left the game in the third quarter with the Bears trailing and Steve Fuller rallied Chicago to the win.
Linebacker Frank Zombo grew up in Sterling Heights, Mich., as a Lions fan, and as a wide receiver in high school he wore No. 84 in honor of his favorite Detroit player, receiver Herman Moore.
Memories like that have Zombo, a longshot in training camp who made the team as a non-drafted rookie free agent, shaking his head a little at the fact that his first NFL start at Lambeau Field will be against his home-state Lions on Sunday.
"Who would have thought? Definitely I wouldn't have thought," Zombo said. "It's a great opportunity. Everyone at home is going to be loving it and watching. It's good to represent. I've got a lot of people back at home that are proud of me, and I've got a great backbone of support."
Zombo got his first pro start on the road this past week at Chicago, taking over Brad Jones' outside linebacker spot. He recorded his second NFL sack in the game and also laid a costly hit on Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler – one to his chin that cost Zombo a league fine of $7,500.
"It's going to hurt the piggybank," he said. "Especially being a free agent, I don't really have a whole lot of money. When they fine me like that, it definitely hurts."
It's not necessarily going to change Zombo's approach to rushing the passer, however. He didn't intend to drill Cutler with a helmet to the chin, but he admitted it's tough to steer away from a particular point of contact in the heat of the play.
"I'm being aggressive, being a football player, getting to the quarterback, doing what I'm coached to do," he said. "I'm coming off a block, being held, being pushed. It's kind of hard to judge. Maybe three inches? If I hit three inches lower, I'm not getting a flag. But I'm going to learn from it. It's a good learning experience and I'm going to go from there."
Nickel cornerback Sam Shields was added to the injury report on Thursday with a calf injury he sustained during practice. He was listed as a limited participant. Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't have any other information to report on Shields' injury right after practice.
If Shields is unable to play, the Packers' options for the nickel spot would be Brandon Underwood, Jarrett Bush or Pat Lee. Underwood was the top nickel corner during much of training camp but just returned from a shoulder injury last week. Lee was inactive for Monday's game in Chicago when Underwood came back.
Also added to the injury report as limited was linebacker Brady Poppinga (hamstring).
Two players for the Packers did not participate in Thursday's practice – linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and safety Nick Collins (knee). McCarthy said he was "doubtful" Chillar would be able to play Sunday, but he was more optimistic about Collins.
The other seven players on Green Bay's injury report were all full participants: Neal (side/rib), Jenkins (hand), Jones (knee), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safeties Derrick Martin (ankle) and Charlie Peprah (quad), and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe).
For the Lions, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was added to their report as a limited participant with a back injury.
Safety Louis Delmas (groin/biceps/calf) was a limited participant after sitting out on Wednesday, while four players were upgraded from limited to full: linebackers Zack Follett (concussion) and Landon Johnson (neck), cornerback Chris Houston (knee), and guard Stephen Peterman (foot).
Six Detroit players sat out practice for the second straight day. They were Stafford (right shoulder), running backs Jahvid Best (toe) and Aaron Brown (finger), receiver Nate Burleson (ankle), defensive tackle Sammie Hill (ankle) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin). Defensive end Cliff Avril (knee/finger) safety C.C. Brown (forearm) remained limited.
Additional coverage – Sept. 30