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Packers take DL Neal, trade up for S Burnett

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — General manager Ted Thompson took a conservative approach to the draft in his first four years in Green Bay, testing Packers fans' patience by consistently trading down to stockpile extra picks.

He broke character in a big way last year, making a surprise move up for outside linebacker Clay Matthews III. And he followed it up with another move upward this year, albeit a less splashy one.

After staying put to take Purdue defensive lineman Mike Neal in Friday's second round, he traded up to take Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett in the third.

Trading down might have made sense when Thompson first took over a depleted roster, but he's not rebuilding now.

"I think our core is stronger than it has been in the past," Thompson said. "Hopefully it will continue to get bigger. It doesn't discount the value of adding new players to your team and that's very important. But you do sometimes look at the board and say, 'Well, if we draft this guy is he going to be better than these guys?'"

After addressing their biggest need with the selection of Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga in Thursday's first round, the Packers put their defense first Friday.

Green Bay used the No. 56 overall pick on Neal, who will be a defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. He had 5½ sacks and 11½ tackles for loss as a senior.

Thompson then made a deal to acquire Philadelphia's third-round selection Friday night and take Burnett, giving the Eagles their third-round selection and a fourth-rounder. The Packers still could use depth at cornerback and outside linebacker.

Burnett, who left school after his junior year, had 14 interceptions in three seasons.

"We're going to throw him in there and see how it works out," Thompson said. "He's got some pretty good competition in front of him, but I think he's a legitimate pro or we wouldn't have made that trade."

Neal said he's fan of Packers linebackers A.J. Hawk and Matthews, so he has a sense of what he's getting into.

"I definitely watched those guys play, and I like what they bring to the table as a linebacker group," Neal said. "It definitely opened my eyes to the Green Bay Packers."

Burnett, meanwhile, proudly professed that he's a big fan of Brett Favre — showing that he might not be coming to Green Bay with a firm grasp of fans' feelings toward the team's former quarterback.

Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Neal projects as a defensive end in the Packers' 3-4, both in base and nickel defenses. Trgovac said Neal is strong against the run and has pass rush skills, and his strength is a significant asset.

"When he got a one-on-one base block, he very seldom lost that block, and was able to get off and make plays," Trgovac said.

Neal's arrival in Green Bay provides additional competition on the defensive line, especially for oft-injured defensive lineman Justin Harrell, the team's No. 1 pick in 2007.

"I think he's a guy that can come in and compete with the guys that we have in there," Trgovac said. "Certainly, he'll be getting every opportunity. ... It's an area that you'd better have enough players at that position."

There were concerns about Neal's conditioning going into the draft, and Neal acknowledged that it's an area he is working on.

"I definitely think that's one part of the game that I can improve on," Neal said.

Trgovac said Neal rarely left the field.

"He very seldom ever left the game," Trgovac said. "When you watch a defensive lineman in college football nowadays, that's hard to do, because they leave for long stretches of time. A lot of these guys that got drafted ahead of him, you watch the game, they'd be out for seven, eight plays."

Burnett could provide competition for veteran Atari Bigby, and certainly will add depth to what was a thin secondary at the end of last season.

"This is not any sort of indictment against Atari," Thompson said. "It's the same way with different positions. We've had injuries on the offensive line that we talked about last night, and injuries sometimes on the defensive line. You just have to have more players, more quality players so when someone does get dinged then your final product doesn't diminish."