I’ve made this point on Railbird Central several times now, but also wanted to put it in writing for those who may not catch our podcasts.
It’s all about baby steps with Mike Neal.
Many people hope he can be an elixer for a Packers defense that has largely struggled this season despite Green Bay’s undefeated record.
And while it appears no one is expecting anything from Neal, he has the chance to be this year’s James Starks––a player coming back from injury at midseason just in time to make an impact late in the year.
Neal cleared the first hurdle yesterday by coming back to practice in limited fashion.
And while he hasn’t been ruled out for the upcoming game against the Minnesota Vikings, it’s more than likely not going to happen.
Neal just needs to continue to make those baby steps. And today is already the obstacle he must overcome. He must respond well to his first action in months and practice on back-to-back days.
Perhaps the primary reason he should not play on Monday Night Football is because of the short turnaround time between that game and the next one the following Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There’s one less day for the rest and recovery needed for the stress Neal would be putting on his surgically repaired knee (in which doctors took out some loose cartilage).
But not playing isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Neal if he can just continue to make progress. Maybe by next week he’ll be ready to make the jump from limited participation in practice to full participation.
And once again, it’s probably not a wise choice for Neal to play against the Bucs on Nov. 20 because of the even shorter timespan between that game the Packers’ next game on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions.
With only three days between those games, it’s barely enough time for any player on the roster to recover, let alone Neal coming off of injury.
So if the Packers target Neal’s return for Thanksgiving, which will be an important game in itself as a road contest against a tough Lions team, they will have taken that next baby step by returning to action.
Following the Nov. 24 game at Detroit, the Packers then 10 days until their next game Dec. 4 at the New York Giants.
Maybe by that time, Neal will not only be able to play, he could be ready to start. Again, a baby step.
And after that, maybe he’ll be ready to make a big impact. All in time for the stretch run and the playoffs.