Neal, Mulumba must step up for Packers

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By Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mike Neal is smart enough to know he can't fill Clay Matthews' shoes, and Andy Mulumba wouldn't presume to even think it, but together the two Green Bay Packers outside linebackers are going to have to do the job Matthews is paid $13.2 million per year to do.

The Packers haven't announced anything yet, but it's likely Matthews is done for the year after breaking his right thumb for the second time this season.

Matthews had strung together seven straight starts after returning the first time from the thumb injury, which took a lot of pressure off Neal to be the sack guy and Mulumba to play like a veteran. The return of Nick Perry from a foot injury gave the Packers a nice four-man rotation.

But with Matthews gone and Perry clearly not right because of the foot injury, Neal and Mulumba could be feeling pressure to step up their games.

“I'm not Clay Matthews,” Neal said Tuesday. “I've said that before. I'm not trying to fill Clay's shoes; I'm trying to fill Mike Neal's shoes.

“We just have to go out there and get a win. There's no pressure put on me to do what Clay does. Just put pressure on me to go out there and try to get a win.”

Neal has been held out of practice twice a week for several weeks now to help his body recover each week. In the off-season, he dropped 30 pounds so he could make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker and the 683 snaps he has played has taken its toll.

Neal never thought he would play this many in his first year at linebacker, but a combination of necessity and performance has dictated it. Neal ranks seventh on the team with 54 tackles and tied for third with five sacks and is now the veteran at his position.

“I have to be able to go out and contribute, just step up and perform,” said Neal, who suffered a stinger Sunday but said he is fine. “Clay's not a vocal leader. You don't have to be a vocal leader to go out there and perform.”

Mulumba, who has played 256 snaps on defense and 203 on special teams, said he has been watching Matthews, Perry and Neal closely to get tips from them. He, like the others, was a college defensive end.

He played better against Pittsburgh on Sunday than he had in earlier performances, including a clean slate on mental errors, so there's hope he can start to be more than just a body eating up snaps.

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