Mike Neal views it as a compliment, choosing to look at it as a way of becoming a bigger part of the Green Bay Packers' defensive plans this season. Whether it's more of an indictment of his first three NFL seasons or an idea to help unleash his untapped potential, the Packers are in the early stages of transitioning the 294-pound Neal from defensive line to outside linebacker. When Neal lined up at outside linebacker for a few plays during the first week of Green Bay's offseason training activities, it caught even him by surprise. With a little bit of practice and a detailed discussion with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, Neal is starting to embrace his new role. "I enjoy it," Neal said Tuesday in the locker room. "I enjoy anything they ask me to do. It's not stressful. It's allowed me to learn new things that I wasn't able to see with my hand in the dirt. It's allowed me to be able to use my speed and quickness. It's just allowed me to do a whole lot of things that I couldn't do before. "It's actually fun." Neal, 25, was drafted by the Packers in the second round in 2010. Several injuries, an NFL suspension and inconsistent play have held Neal back from living up to that high draft billing. Green Bay's coaching staff is hoping that a change of position is just what Neal needs. "We're just looking to expand his role," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Looking at him now will probably determine how much we do expand his role. We know what he can do inside. He's done well in there for us when he's been healthy. I just think the more that guys can do as you get into the season, it gives you more flexibility in terms of being able to rush inside or outside or if you want to drop him out. Again, it's an identification issue for an offense." At first glance, it's difficult to imagine Neal at outside linebacker. He's huge, even by NFL standards. His chiseled body looks like that of a professional powerlifter. But when considering Neal's athletic ability and natural talents as a pass rusher, perhaps it could work with overwhelmingly positive results for the Packers. "They're trying to make a way for me to get on the field and make plays, because that's what I do best," Neal said. Neal had 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles last season while playing in 10 games. According to data from ProFootballFocus.com, of Neal's 323 snaps in 2012, 76.5 percent were rushing the quarterback. Neal acknowledged Tuesday that he struggles in stopping the run, which Capers clearly believed to be true when distributing snaps last season to his defensive linemen. But a switch to outside linebacker won't keep Neal from having to stop the run. It will actually give him more responsibilities. "Unfortunately, an outside linebacker in a 3-4 (defense) is not just a pass rusher," Greene said. "He's got to cover. Mike Neal is no different. When he plays outside linebacker, he's going to have to understand coverage, the mechanics of different coverage concepts. He's going to have to play the run as an outside linebacker. When he gets a chance to rush the passer, he needs to make hay, obviously, like all the outside linebackers. "In our multiple-pressure package, when it's your time to rush, you need to make it happen because you don't know if you're going to rush again for another four or five snaps because you're going to be in coverage. A couple of those snaps are going to be runs." There's no guarantee that Neal will spend the majority of his time at outside linebacker this upcoming season. Capers and Greene wouldn't project how it'd be split, and Neal simply had no idea at this point what to expect. That uncertainty creates a bit of a problem for Neal, whose listed weight is 40 pounds heavier than the average of the Packers' current group of outside linebackers. Neal hasn't been asked to lose weight, but it may come to that if the transition becomes more permanent. "He's probably 280-ish now, hopefully a tad lighter," Greene said. "He can do everything where he is; Being 280 pounds and being fluid enough to play outside linebacker."
Packers' Neal having "fun" in new role at linebacker
Fox Sports Wisconsin | May 29