Originally written March 27, 2012 on Fox Sports Wisconsin:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers defensive end Mike Neal lost his appeal with the NFL in an effort to overturn his four-game suspension but insists he's not guilty of taking a performance-enhancing drug.On March 13, an NFL spokesperson said Neal "has been suspended without pay for the team's first four games of the 2012 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances."Neal, however, wants to be clear that violating that policy doesn't mean he took a PED. In a phone interview Monday morning, Neal said he never touched a performance-enhancing drug such as steroids or human growth hormone. According to Neal, what happened was much more innocent.Neal said he was given a prescription medication that was approved by his physician. That wouldn't normally be an issue, but Neal didn't realize that the medical information had to all be turned in to the Packers. Neal added emphatically that he did nothing wrong except for his failure to provide details of the prescription to the team.A message to the NFL seeking further clarification on Neal's suspension was not returned.Neal, Green Bay's second-round pick in 2010 and still just 24 years old, has played in nine games in his two-year career and recorded six total tackles.In his two seasons, Neal has battled several injuries that have become a major setbacs in his promising career.As a rookie, Neal was placed on injured reserve in Week 5 after hurting his right shoulder. Last season, Neal injured his left knee in training camp and damaged cartilage in the process.When Neal played his first snaps of the 2011 season in Week 11, it was apparent that he was not yet healthy. Coach Mike McCarthy stated on several occasions that Neal would be in training camp mode for the remainder of the season. It took Neal until his sixth game back to record a tackle.The defensive end position Neal was expected to fill became a big hole in Green Bay's struggling defense in 2011. Packers general manager Ted Thompson believed in Neal so much that he let Cullen Jenkins leave in free agency last offseason without making an offer. As Neal recovered from the injury that left him ineffective, Jenkins played in all 16 games for the Eagles and recorded 5.5 sacks. Jenkins' departure was a significant factor in why Green Bay's defense went from the NFL's fifth-best in 2010 to the worst in the league in 2011.Even prior to Neal's suspension, Thompson clearly had a need to address the team's 27th-ranked pass-rush this offseason.When Neal returns to the Packers' lineup in Week 5 following his suspension, if healthy, he has shown in his two training camps that he can be a handful for offensive lines. But this latest setback could change how Thompson and McCarthy view Neal's future with the team moving forward.Follow Paul Imig on Twitter
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