Green Bay Packers: Why Mike Neal Is the Biggest Key to the Team's Future Success

Matt SmithContributor IIIJanuary 31, 2012

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions drops back to pass during the first quarter of the game as Mike Neal #96 of the Green Bay Packers puts on the rush during the game at Ford Field on November 24, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Coming out of Purdue University as a second-round pick two years ago, big things were expected of Mike Neal.

People knew he had brute strength as evidenced by his 31 reps on the bench press at the combine. And when he started showing his physical tools during training camp and the preseason, people started getting excited.

However, injuries have derailed his career thus far. Neal tore his rotator cuff his rookie season and suffered a subluxed kneecap this past offseason.

It's a shame too, because the Packers' defensive line generated almost no pass rush this season.

With no pass rush coming from the defensive line, GM Ted Thompson will be pressed to find a lineman who can instantly contribute. That lineman will have locked down one spot.

But there are two defensive end spots in a 3-4 scheme, and Neal should be able to grab the other because of his potential.

His stats, though, wouldn't suggest he has anything guaranteed. In nine career games, Neal has recorded six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

This is partially because he has oft missed practice time and barring an injury should be able to participate fully in camp this offseason.

Neal is a known gym rat, so with this camp he should do nothing but improve. 

The Green Bay Packers need pass-rushers to complement Clay Matthews, and if Neal improves with a full offseason, the defense will find success in 2012.

If he injures himself again or is just plain ineffective, that means more blockers on Matthews and another bad year for the defense.