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While Neal returns, back injury shelves Worthy for awhile

Jul 30, 2014 -- 9:30pm
 
Photo/ESPNWisconsin.com 
Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy figures to be sidelined for awhile following offseason back surgery, while Mike Neal returned to action Wednesday.
 

GREEN BAY – Jerel Worthy can’t promise that he’ll be back on the field before the end of training camp, but the Green Bay Packers third-year defensive end insists that offseason lower back surgery won’t keep him from being ready for the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at Seattle.

“I will be ready for the season, I can tell you that much,” Worthy said after Wednesday’s training camp practice, the fourth he’s missed while on the team’s non-football injury list. “This is not going to set me back.”

Trouble is, it already has.

The 2012 second-round pick from Michigan State played 467 snaps before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the regular-season finale at Minnesota. That wiped out his entire offseason last year and landed him on the physically unable to perform list to start the year. While he was eventually cleared to practice on Nov. 13 and added to the 53-man roster 10 days later, he saw action in only two regular-season games. Including the two snaps he played against San Francisco in the playoff loss at Lambeau Field, Worthy was on the field for just 12 plays last year.

Worthy said he injured his back weightlifting on his own this spring before organized team activity practices were to begin and had surgery in April. He called the surgery “a little bit of cleanup” on his lower back and did his best to downplay the severity.

“I feel really good. I can do a lot of the things that they ask me to do as far as running, change of direction, lifting. I'm getting back to feeling like my old self,” Worthy said. “A couple things got out of place in my lower spine, and at the end of the day core strength and having a strong back is huge for what we do in the trenches. The way our team operates, we take the conservative road and make sure everybody is able before putting a guy back out there. They just have to make sure everybody is in tip top shape.”

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Mike Neal was back on the field after starting camp on the physically unable to perform list like Worthy. He was able to practice immediately in pads because of a rule change this offseason made by the league that eliminated the requirement that players coming off injury spend two days out of pads before returning to full duty, and he worked in both 11-on-11 sessions and 1-on-1 drills.

“I thought they would have to start me off and gradually work me back into it, but they told me I was good to go if I wanted, and I was good with that,” Neal said. “I felt good. A little sore, but I felt good.”

Neal now must adjust to playing at his new, lower weight of 263 pounds – down more than 30 pounds from his listed weight as a rookie.

“I feel rusty right now, but I do (feel quicker). Shoot, I stepped on the scale today and I was 260,” said Neal, who had five sacks last season while primarily playing outside linebacker. “I’m playing this game now where I’m trying to settle about 265. But I feel a little bit faster. It’s one of those out-of-body experiences, where, I’m not used to this. I have to get used to being a little bit lighter and a little faster on my feet. So I’m a little rusty in that case, but I feel pretty good.”

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