Mike Neal’s first two years in the NFL have been a tremendous disappointment.
Only Neal knows whether that had any impact on his decision to use performance-enhancing drugs, but one thing that is certain is the start of his 2012 season will be a tremendous disappointment, as well.
“Mike Neal of the Green Bay Packers has been suspended without pay for the team’s first four games of the 2012 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances,” an NFL spokesman said via e-mail of news broken by The Sports Xchange’s Howard Balzer.
The announcement means Neal has lost his appeal and the penalty is final.
“Neal will be eligible to return to the Packers’ active roster on the day after the team’s fourth regular-season game of the 2012 season," the league statement continued. "Neal is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games.”
Neal has played in nine of a possible 32 regular-season games since being the Packers’ second-round pick in 2010. As a rookie, he played in only two games because of a strained abdominal muscle and then a torn rotator cuff and partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, injuries that required season-ending surgery. In 2011, he injured a knee during a noncontact drill, with the resulting arthroscopic surgery keeping him out for the first nine games.
In seven games this past season, Neal recorded five tackles and two quarterback hits, by the team’s count.
“I’ve got a big chunk of cartilage missing underneath my kneecap, that’s pretty much what it is. It’s pretty painful,” Neal said after the season. “You can only deal with the pain level to a certain extent. That’s pretty much it. Some days you feel better than others. Probably 75, 80 percent.”
After playing in 32, 25 and 26 snaps in Weeks 12 through 14, Neal averaged 17.5 snaps in the final four games (including playoffs).
“By the time he came back, it was almost like he was starting in training camp,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said after the season. “I think what Mike needs is a full offseason, all the drill work, all the technique work, and then hopefully be able to stay healthy where he can carry what you get in training camp into the season. By the time he came back he’d missed an awful lot of time so it was really playing catch-up ball at that point in time.”
The suspension means Neal won’t be able to carry over any offseason gains, providing yet another setback for a player the Packers had banked so much on entering last season.
“It’s hard,” Neal, a voracious weightlifter, said. “People place expectations on you that really aren’t fair. You want to go out there and say, ‘I’m 100 percent, I can do this, I can do that,’ but I didn’t make anybody any promises. The coaching staff knew what they were dealing with when I came back. I knew what I was dealing with. The training room knew what I was dealing with. Just to be able to get me to play, salvaging my season, and trying to help out wherever I (could). I didn’t play that many snaps, I wasn’t expected to play that many snaps, I knew I wasn’t going ot play full-time with the type of injury I had.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.