Rookie Neal knows he can't stay down long

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
7:00
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Rajion Neal did exactly what Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy wanted someone to do in Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans: The rookie running back got the attention of the coaches.

He did so by rushing for 39 yards on just five carries, including a 12-yard touchdown run in which he ran over a Titans defender at the goal line in the third quarter. And then without a moment's notice, his night ended when he took a blow to the knee at the end of his 22-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

The undrafted rookie from the University of Tennessee did not practice on Monday, when a pair of crutches were propped up against his locker. Walking without the crutches, Neal vowed to return quickly, perhaps even for preseason game No. 2 at St. Louis on Saturday.

"I've got to play; there ain't no way around it," Neal said. "Being in the position I'm in, I can't afford it."

There's no denying his position improved based on his performance against the Titans. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Neal had shown signs of that kind of ability during the first two weeks of practice and validated it when he averaged 7.8 yards per carry in his preseason debut.

Neal still faces a difficult task to make the team given the depth the Packers have in front of him with Eddie Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, but at the very least he has caught the attention of McCarthy, who said last week that he wanted players to "jump out" against the Titans.

"I thought he ran strong," McCarthy said Monday. "I thought he did a nice job running his course. Obviously, you like the finish on the touchdown run. I thought he played very well."

He also got the attention of teammates like Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.

"Aaron and Jordy and all those guys gave me handshakes and told me they like the way I run," Neal said. "So it was definitely a moment you'll remember, and it felt good."

The Packers don't think Neal will be out for long. He said his knee is sore but otherwise sustained no other damage. He has three more preseason games to make his mark, and he intends to be ready.

"There's still a whole lot to prove and a lot more fun to be had," Neal said. "So I'm looking forward to it."

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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