Examining Mike Neal's role: OLB or DE?

GREEN BAY, Wis. – When it comes to Mike Neal, the question almost always has been the same: Will he be available?

After battling shoulder and knee injuries his first two seasons, he served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy to start last season. This year, he opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list because of an abdominal injury.

Now that Neal has passed his physical and returned to the practice field on Wednesday in a limited role, there’s another question worth asking about the former second-round draft pick from Purdue: What position will he play?

“Mike is a defensive lineman,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He will have a role that will have some different responsibilities than he’s had in the past, but he’s on my defensive line depth chart.”

That said, Neal looked a lot more like an outside linebacker on Wednesday, when his drill work was almost exclusively with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene. A defensive end his first three seasons, Neal began to take snaps at outside linebacker during offseason workouts this spring.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds last season, Neal said he got down to 275 pounds (he’s listed at 285).

“I feel comfortable at 275,” he said. “I feel like I can still generate power at the three-technique (defensive tackle) if I have to rush the passer or be explosive if I have to rush from the outside.”

Neal did both on Wednesday. In four turns in the one-on-one pass rushing drill, he took two reps from a traditional three-point stance and two as a stand-up outside rusher. He went 1-1 from each spot. He didn’t take any reps during team periods and said he is unlikely to play in Friday’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

In 11 games last season, Neal finished second on the team with 4 ½ sacks and third in quarterback hits (12). Because of injuries, he played in only two games as a rookie and seven in his second year.