Saturday, October 6, 2012
Starks, Neal itching to play for Packers
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike Neal is hoping his Indiana homecoming counts for something.
Neal, a native of the Hoosier State, said Friday he secured about 20 tickets for those close to him to attend Sunday's matchup in Indianapolis between the Green Bay Packers and the hometown Colts.
"My friends and family have always been supportive," Neal said. "Me playing or not playing, the big thing is just to be able to see them."
Still, Neal would prefer to be seen in uniform on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf instead of standing on the sideline dressed in sweats.
Neal and Green Bay teammate James Starks are itching to play for the first time this season, but neither player knows whether the long wait will end Sunday, when the Packers (2-2) visit the Colts (1-2).
"I don't know how it's really going to work," Starks said. "I don't know what Coach's got in store."
Coach Mike McCarthy refrained from saying after practice Friday what the status of Starks and Neal would be on game day.
Starks, a running back who led Green Bay in rushing yards last season, feels healthy again after being out since the preseason with a toe injury.
Neal, a defensive end whose young pro career has been marred by injuries, feels he's ready to return to game action after serving a suspension the first four weeks of the season.
"Those decisions will be made after we meet (as coaches) today," McCarthy said. "I really don't want to get into who's up and who's not."
The NFL gave the Packers a one-week roster exemption for Neal, who rejoined the team Monday and resumed practicing Wednesday. So they could wait until after Sunday's game to add Neal to the 53-man roster.
An eager Neal feels he can be of help right away as Green Bay kicks off a stretch of three straight games on the road.
"I feel fine," Neal said. "I'm always in game shape, man. I'm one of them people that I usually work out a lot, and even if I don't I like to get tired, I like to make myself tired. You can never be in perfect shape."
The opinion from the coaches after they watched him the last three days on the practice field is he returned to the team in good physical shape.
Neal was allowed to practice and play in the preseason. But he had to leave the team after the final exhibition game Aug. 30 and begin serving the four-game suspension at the start of the season.
The NFL-imposed suspension stemmed from a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Neal had been taking the prescription medication Adderall but didn't alert the league of his use of it before he was tested.
Neal split time during his four weeks away from the Packers between his home in Merrillville, Ind., and Tampa, Fla., where he worked out.
"Mike looks healthy," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He looks big, strong, quick. He looked good. He had a good week of practice. He had a great retention of the defense. He's a smart kid, so no problems there."
Neal was a college standout at Purdue, and the Packers selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. He hasn't come close to fulfilling the big expectations on him at the start of his pro career, playing just a total of 10 games his first two seasons.
Neal missed most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. He then suffered a knee injury in the preseason last year and was out until November.
After being healthy and productive toward the end of the preseason this year, Neal would love for his first game this season to be in front of his mini-cheering section but is keeping an open mind.
"It's not my decision," he said. "If I had some clue, I would know. But it's whatever they decide to do, and whatever they decide to do is obviously the right thing to do. So you just have to go with it."
Starks also is playing the waiting game for when his first appearance of the season will occur. He believes he's ready to contribute after enduring a lengthy recovery for turf toe on his right foot. He sustained the injury in the Packers' first preseason game Aug. 9.
"It's feeling good now," Starks said. "Obviously, it's probably going to linger for a year and stuff like that, but it's still good. I've got my burst back, starting to cut better, everything. It's something you deal with and move on."
Although Starks was projected to be the starter at running back after the Packers didn't re-sign free agent Ryan Grant in the offseason, they added veteran Cedric Benson only three days after Starks was injured.
Benson has produced in the featured role early in the season. He had a season-high 84 yards in 18 carries in the win over the Saints on Sunday.
NOTES: Green Bay already will be without Pro Bowl WR Greg Jennings against the Colts. The team declared him out Thursday for the game after Jennings aggravated a groin injury in the win over New Orleans. . DL Ryan Pickett is probable to play Sunday. The veteran starter practiced on a limited basis this week because of shoulder and knee injuries. Safety M.D. Jennings (neck) also is probable.