GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A challenging week of practice in warm conditions and injuries to some key players have left the Packers possibly undermanned for Friday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
"This was the challenge week for our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think it was evident -- three full practices, 2½ hours long (each of the previous three days), coming off a night schedule in the heat of the day."
"I'd say this year is better than the last two years," McCarthy said. "(But) we're always going to play the high side of caution because of his history."
The potential absence of Matthews on Friday could give more playing time to the three players battling for the starting spot opposite him at outside linebacker: Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Brad Jones. Zombo started against the Browns, but Walden spent most of this week working with the first-string defense.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Thursday a decision had yet to be made on who will be the starter Friday.
"They've all played and played pretty good for us at times," Capers said.
Capers had cause for concern during practice Tuesday, when he watched the left knee of Neal buckle in a non-contact drill.
Neal limped off the field under his own power, but he didn't practice the rest of the week. He is the presumptive replacement in the starting lineup for Cullen Jenkins, who left the team in free agency.
"You never want to lose a player," Capers said. "But in a drill where he's slapping the bag and going over the bag, I was concerned, obviously, like I think everybody was."
One day after McCarthy said Neal didn't need a medical scan for the knee, the coach clarified Thursday that the second-year pro had an MRI test, which revealed a knee sprain. Neal's status remained day to day.
"I'm definitely excited about getting out there tomorrow," Lang said. "It's going to be a huge step for me. If I can go in there and play the way I've been playing, only good things will happen. But it's still a competition going on."
Meanwhile, veteran cornerback Charles Woodson and talented tight end Jermichael Finley are expected to get their first preseason action Friday.
Capers indicated the first-string defense, which also should have nickel back Sam Shields back after he missed the opener because of a hip injury, would go for about 15 to 20 plays.
Finley, who hasn't played since he suffered a season-ending knee injury last October, anticipates having a cameo appearance of only one series as he gets back to working with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"I've got all of the coaches saying don't get too excited and go out there and get too jacked up," Finley said. "But I'm going to be jacked up. That's me; that's my personality. I'll be ready. I'll be like a little kid in the candy store."
Notes: McCarthy declared five injured players out for Friday's game: rookie defensive end Lawrence Guy, safeties Brandon Underwood and Anthony Levine and offensive linemen Adrian Battles and Chris Campbell. ... The Packers unofficially broke camp Thursday as they moved out of their dorm rooms at nearby St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. The team holds all camp practices at its facilities across the street from Lambeau Field. ... Players showed their appreciation to the fans after Thursday's workout by throwing and even using slingshots to send T-shirts, pompons and water balloons into the bleachers at the outdoor practice field. "We just wanted to give back and have some fun," McCarthy said. "It's amazing what people do for a free T-shirt."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press