GREEN BAY – Mike Neal spent his four-week NFL suspension working out, watching his younger brothers play football and making sure he returned to the Green Bay Packers with the right perspective.
The third-year defensive end, who served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, entered training camp with a fresh outlook after two largely disappointing seasons as a second-round pick in 2010 from Purdue. During his suspension, which was for using prescribed Adderall (for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) without notifying the league before testing positive for the substance, Neal wanted to make sure he stayed in a good place mentally. And he did.
“It’s been a long time coming, but I got a chance to sit back and really reevaluate my life,” said Neal, who played just two games as a rookie before season-ending shoulder injury and missed all but seven games last season with a training-camp knee injury that robbed him of his explosiveness. “I look at it as, you have to go through something to get to something. I went through something, and now I want to just come out on the other side and keep going.
“Physically, that’s one thing. But mentally, I can say last year I wasn’t there. That was related to the suspension, obviously – taking Adderall. I went through a lot mentally last year, with everything that happened to me. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I just let it go and said, ‘It’s football. I’ve been doing this all my life.’ I came into training camp feeling good.”
To that end, Neal suspended all his social media accounts and adopted a new mantra.
“The biggest thing was, ‘Let go, and let God,’” Neal said. “I know who I am and whose I am, and that’s the only person at the end of the day I answer to. I kind of found every negative outlet and cut it out – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – and said, ‘You know what, these people are contributing to what I’m feeling mentally.’ I let all that stuff go, and I don’t pay attention to that anymore.”
The Packers have a one-week roster exemption with Neal, who wants to play Sunday at Indianapolis in part because he’s from Indiana and has a contingent of family and friends coming to the game. Regardless, though, he says he’s ready, and if the Packers agree, they’ll have to make a roster move to accommodate him.
“(I) had a chance to watch Mike Neal a lot today. He looks to be in great shape. He wasn’t winded at all. Fresh legs,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He had a good practice, I’d like to watch the tape with the coaches and then we’ll watch him again tomorrow. I think tomorrow’s padded practice will give us a better indication where he is.”
Neal said he spent the first week at home again in Indiana with his younger brothers, who are 19, 16 and 15 – the oldest of those three plays at Bowling Green, the middle one on the varsity at Merrillville (Ind.) High School and the youngest on the Merrillville JV – before spending the past three weeks working out in Tampa.
Neal, who went out with a bang by playing well in the preseason finale against Kansas City, acknowledged that Thursday’s practice will be a good test but said he believes he’s ready for action.
“Oh yeah, I feel great. I’ve had a four-week break,” he said. “You come back fresh. I’ve got to go out there and bang around tomorrow, I’ve got to go out there and experience some pain, a bruise, something like that, just get that under my belt. But physically I feel capable of doing it.”
Asked whether he got frustrated about the suspension while watching his team on TV play without him, Neal replied, “I never was frustrated because I didn’t do anything wrong, that’s how I look at it. When I first got suspended, I was pretty upset, just with the nature of missing my first two seasons practically and then having to serve the suspension, but God’s got a plan for everybody. I kept myself positive and I was able to let it go and I feel good.”
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