<
>

Rajion Neal's comeback with Packers nearly complete

5h
On Saturday, Rajion Neal averaged 5.8 yards on four carries and caught five passes for 61 yards, including a 36-yard screen pass for a touchdown. Mike Roemer/AP

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Every week, Rajion Neal and Jayrone Elliott would trade text messages.

Neal would send videos of his workouts from Pensacola, Florida, and Elliott would reply from Green Bay with words of encouragement.

This went on for much of last fall, when Neal spent September and October rehabilitating the knee he injured in his first NFL preseason game, and Elliott was in the early stages of rookie season with the Green Bay Packers.

"In this league, you rarely get a second chance," Elliott, the Packers' second-year outside linebacker, said recently. "Everybody wants to play in the NFL, and I believe that he has the talent to do so. So I would text him [and tell him] I know he can play in the league."

With a second chance, Neal has proven Elliott and -- he hopes the Packers -- right. As they promised, the Packers brought him back on the practice squad last November after his injury settlement expired, re-signed him in January and gave him the chance this summer to be their No. 3 halfback behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

Neal can lock up that job -- if he hasn't already -- in Thursday's preseason finale against the Saints.

In Saturday's game against the Eagles, Neal averaged 5.8 yards on four rushes and caught five passes for 61 yards, including a 36-yard screen pass for a touchdown. He also returned a kickoff 31 yards, matching Ty Montgomery for the team's longest of the game, and he owns the Packers' longest kickoff return of the preseason with a 38-yarder the previous week against the Steelers.

"You talk about a young man that's had an opportunity to be on our practice squad, and now he's getting more and more opportunities each and every week throughout this preseason," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's made plays, particularly the last two weeks, with those opportunities, both in the kickoff return and a big-time play on the screen. He's doing a lot of good things."

Neal wasn't sure whether he'd even get this chance when the Packers released him with an injury settlement last August. They told him they would re-sign him, but he didn't know if that was just something they tell everyone who gets released. After that, he decided he did not want to go home to Atlanta, where he knew family and friends would bombard him with questions about what happened and whether he'd get another chance at the NFL. So he threw himself into his workouts in Florida.

"It was tough, but at the end of the day you've got to understand that this was a business," Neal said. "I think I had great support from my friends and family back home and even some of the guys here that kept in contact with me and told me to keep working and keep my head up. It was tough, man, but I had a lot of people that really helped me through."

It wasn't just Elliott. Neal said Starks, Demetri Goodson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were among those who also kept in regular contact while he was away. Now, he's back among them and plans to stay around this time.

"I watched the Packers, and it just felt so wrong being away from football," Neal said. "Knowing that a football season is going on, and I'm out here rehabbing and trying to get myself back right and waiting for my call to come back, man it feels terrible. That's just something I don't want to feel again, so I definitely keep that in the back of my mind as far as taking care of my body, running a certain way and doing what I need to do with what's asked of me on the field to the best of my ability. It'll humble you quick, I can tell you that."