Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Probably the most surprising element of the recent OTAs was seeing Mike Neal at outside linebacker.
“Depends on how you use big guys in space,” head coach Mike McCarthy said via Packers.com. “We’re going to expand Mike Neal’s role. We are going to wait on specifics until Week 1 of the season.”
Neal had a good season in 2012, after starting the year with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Neal had 4.5 sacks last season, and had a number of other pressures on the opposing quarterback. The Packers were looking for that type of production from Neal since they drafted him in the second round in 2010.
Neal played in more games last season for the Packers (11) than he did in his first two injury-riddled seasons (nine) in the NFL. Neal had a shoulder injury in 2010 and a knee injury in 2011.
Whether the 295-pound Neal will actually play some outside linebacker remains to be seen. It could be that he will be used in a stand-up role in certain pass-rushing schemes. When the Packers go to their dime defense for instance, the defensive end will sometimes stand up like a linebacker and either rush the quarterback or drop back in a zone blitz look.
The bottom line is that the Packers will now have a number of players with pass-rushing skills in 2013, with Neal, Clay Matthews, Datone Jones and Nick Perry.
Expect defensive coordinator Dom Capers to vary his defensive schemes like a mad scientist as he tries to apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.