Packers practice report: Neal stands out

GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the first time this training camp, the full Mike Neal was on display.

Though Neal actually returned to practice last week on a limited basis after missing the first week and a half because of an abdominal injury, Wednesday was the first time the Green Bay Packers lifted all the restrictions on him.

And it was the first extended look at how Neal might be able to perform in his new role as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. Neal, who lined up exclusively at defensive end the last three seasons, played mostly as a stand-up rush end on Wednesday and had what coach Mike McCarthy called “his best practice” of training camp.

“I think really today was probably the first time we saw what we were hoping he’s about, his ability to be a difference maker as far as the ability to put him in one-on-one situations and for him to win, and to win consistently,” McCarthy said.

Neal worked with the outside linebackers during the individual position periods and was particularly effective in the one-on-one drills against running backs charged with picking up blitzes. In the one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen, Neal went 2-2. Interestingly, both of his wins came as an inside rusher and both of his losses came at outside linebacker.

As we wrote last week, Neal dropped about 15 pounds and is down to 275 pounds. He had no trouble dropping into coverage on Wednesday and defending a pass to receiver Alex Gillett. He also made a tackle for loss on a running play during a half-line drill.

“I think it just best suits me,” Neal said of his new role. “I don’t think I’m a bad run player as a defensive end, but I think using my athleticism is probably the biggest thing, so it just puts me in a better role to be able to use my athleticism.”

Neal is expected to make his preseason debut on Saturday against the St. Louis Rams.

In other developments from Wednesday’s practice:

  • With right guard T.J. Lang back at practice after sitting out the previous two days because of a sore back, we finally got a look at where the competition stands at right tackle. Don Barclay, who filled in for Lang at right guard on Monday and Tuesday, got most of the first reps at right tackle ahead of Marshall Newhouse, but the rep count was split almost evenly. In the one-on-one drills, Barclay went 2-2 and Newhouse 2-1.

  • Cornerback Davon House, coming off what he called “hands down” the worst game of his life on Friday against Arizona, got burned again in coverage. Aaron Rodgers completed four passes – all to James Jones – against House during the no-huddle period, including a 22-yard touchdown on which Jones smoked House down the right sideline.

  • Linebacker Sam Barrington was the only rookie on the No. 1 kickoff-return team, while cornerback Micah Hyde was the only rookie on the top punt-return team.

  • Hyde had the play of the day on defense when he intercepted a B.J. Coleman pass in the end zone while falling down. Hyde reached behind him, tipped the ball to himself and caught it while he was on his back.

  • Running backs DuJuan Harris and Eddie Lacy both took part in team periods, but on a limited basis, after being restricted to individual drills earlier this week.

Medical report: A day after saying he wasn’t being smart when he tried to play through a sore biceps, receiver Randall Cobb was held out of practice.

“He had swelling after yesterday’s practice, so he won’t go tomorrow,” McCarthy said. “I know they wanted to give him at least two days to let it calm down.”

McCarthy said it would be a stretch for Cobb to play Saturday at St. Louis.

Oft-injured running back James Starks missed Wednesday’s practice but only because of a chest illness.

In addition to Lang, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (personal reasons) and tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) returned to practice.

Others who missed practice were WR Charles Johnson (knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Andrew Datko (concussion), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), WR Jordy Nelson (knee), DE Datone Jones (ankle) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).