Starks, Neal itching to play for Packers

Mike Neal is hoping his Indiana homecoming counts for

something.

Neal, a native of the Hoosier State, said Friday he secured

about 20 tickets for those close to him to attend Sunday’s matchup

in Indianapolis between the Green Bay Packers and the hometown

Colts.

”My friends and family have always been supportive,” Neal

said. ”Me playing or not playing, the big thing is just to be able

to see them.”

Still, Neal would prefer to be seen in uniform on the Lucas Oil

Stadium turf instead of standing on the sideline dressed in

sweats.

Neal and Green Bay teammate James Starks are itching to play for

the first time this season, but neither player knows whether the

long wait will end Sunday, when the Packers (2-2) visit the Colts

(1-2).

”I don’t know how it’s really going to work,” Starks said. ”I

don’t know what Coach’s got in store.”

Coach Mike McCarthy refrained from saying after practice Friday

what the status of Starks and Neal would be on game day.

Starks, a running back who led Green Bay in rushing yards last

season, feels healthy again after being out since the preseason

with a toe injury.

Neal, a defensive end whose young pro career has been marred by

injuries, feels he’s ready to return to game action after serving a

suspension the first four weeks of the season.

”Those decisions will be made after we meet (as coaches)

today,” McCarthy said. ”I really don’t want to get into who’s up

and who’s not.”

The NFL gave the Packers a one-week roster exemption for Neal,

who rejoined the team Monday and resumed practicing Wednesday. So

they could wait until after Sunday’s game to add Neal to the 53-man

roster.

An eager Neal feels he can be of help right away as Green Bay

kicks off a stretch of three straight games on the road.

”I feel fine,” Neal said. ”I’m always in game shape, man. I’m

one of them people that I usually work out a lot, and even if I

don’t I like to get tired, I like to make myself tired. You can

never be in perfect shape.”

The opinion from the coaches after they watched him the last

three days on the practice field is he returned to the team in good

physical shape.

Neal was allowed to practice and play in the preseason. But he

had to leave the team after the final exhibition game Aug. 30 and

begin serving the four-game suspension at the start of the

season.

The NFL-imposed suspension stemmed from a violation of the

league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Neal had been

taking the prescription medication Adderall but didn’t alert the

league of his use of it before he was tested.

Neal split time during his four weeks away from the Packers

between his home in Merrillville, Ind., and Tampa, Fla., where he

worked out.

”Mike looks healthy,” Packers defensive line coach Mike

Trgovac said. ”He looks big, strong, quick. He looked good. He had

a good week of practice. He had a great retention of the defense.

He’s a smart kid, so no problems there.”

Neal was a college standout at Purdue, and the Packers selected

him in the second round of the 2010 draft. He hasn’t come close to

fulfilling the big expectations on him at the start of his pro

career, playing just a total of 10 games his first two seasons.

Neal missed most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. He

then suffered a knee injury in the preseason last year and was out

until November.

After being healthy and productive toward the end of the

preseason this year, Neal would love for his first game this season

to be in front of his mini-cheering section but is keeping an open

mind.

”It’s not my decision,” he said. ”If I had some clue, I would

know. But it’s whatever they decide to do, and whatever they decide

to do is obviously the right thing to do. So you just have to go

with it.”

Starks also is playing the waiting game for when his first

appearance of the season will occur. He believes he’s ready to

contribute after enduring a lengthy recovery for turf toe on his

right foot. He sustained the injury in the Packers’ first preseason

game Aug. 9.

”It’s feeling good now,” Starks said. ”Obviously, it’s

probably going to linger for a year and stuff like that, but it’s

still good. I’ve got my burst back, starting to cut better,

everything. It’s something you deal with and move on.”

Although Starks was projected to be the starter at running back

after the Packers didn’t re-sign free agent Ryan Grant in the

offseason, they added veteran Cedric Benson only three days after

Starks was injured.

Benson has produced in the featured role early in the season. He

had a season-high 84 yards in 18 carries in the win over the Saints

on Sunday.

NOTES: Green Bay already will be without Pro Bowl WR Greg

Jennings against the Colts. The team declared him out Thursday for

the game after Jennings aggravated a groin injury in the win over

New Orleans. . DL Ryan Pickett is probable to play Sunday. The

veteran starter practiced on a limited basis this week because of

shoulder and knee injuries. Safety M.D. Jennings (neck) also is

probable.