The Monsters of the Midway have featured one of the better linebacking triumvirates in the league for quite a while, but now it's time for reinforcements.
There's nothing to worry about on the weak side, where Lance Briggs just played in his fourth straight Pro Bowl and is one of the elite players in the NFL at his position. Even though Brian Urlacher may not be the automatic Defensive-Player-of-the-Year candidate he used to be, he's still a capable playmaker manning the middle. But over on the strong side, neither veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer nor youngster Nick Roach performed up to snuff this past season.
General manager Jerry Angelo has selected one linebacker in each of the last five NFL Drafts – Leon Joe (4th round in '04), Rod Wilson (7th in '05), Jamar Williams (4th in '06), Michael Okwo (3rd in '07) and Joey LaRocque (7th in '08) – that has failed to develop into a starter, so perhaps it's time to invest a higher pick in a more legitimate prospect.
Clay Matthews, one of three 'backers from USC that will have his name called on Day 1 this April, appears to have caught Chicago's attention:
"Those guys are incredible," Matthews said when asked about the possibility of playing alongside Briggs and Urlacher in the Windy City, "and to head to a team like that would be a dream come true."
Here's what else the athletic and versatile linebacker had to say during a recent interview session with Scout.com.
Ed Thompson: What was the most valuable thing you learned while working with pro coaches at the Senior Bowl?
Clay Matthews: Fortunately, I was with Jacksonville and Jack Del Rio, and he's an old "SC" guy. He was very similar to Coach [Pete] Carroll at USC. They preach the same message. Their defenses were very similar, so it was a smooth transition for me. But it's obviously more of a business now, and rightfully so with millions of dollars on the line. I think we all still had a blast down there, and when it comes down to it, football is still football no matter where you play.
ET: As you interacted with the Jaguars coaches throughout the week, what do you think they saw in you as a player?
CM: It's hard to say what they saw in me, but what I would have liked for them to have seen is my work ethic, how I do things – just coming out there every day, getting after it, and showing that I'm an athlete and that I'm more than capable of playing at the next level for their team.
ET: Where are you training now?
CM: I'm training down in Orange County at Velocity Sports. My agent, David Dunn with Athlete's First, has us training pretty much right next to the office down here. So I'm doing that and going back and forth to school, too.
ET: I've talked with many players who have made the leap from the college ranks to the NFL, and obviously they had to go through the rookie experience that is somewhat similar to being a freshman again. Based on how you came in as a walk-on at USC, you seem like a guy who's going to love the challenge of proving to the veterans on any NFL team that you belong there with them.
CM: Absolutely. I redshirted my freshman year and didn't get much playing time until the last couple years, working my way up, so I understand what it's like. I have a blue-collar mentality, and I know how to work day in and day out. A lot of kids coming out of high school are five-star, blue-chip type of athletes and come in to college thinking that they are going to start right away. My experience was the complete opposite, so I understand the hard work you need to put in and the steps it takes to be successful at this level. I think I learned that lesson at an early age. It's not your typical college career, but it's not about where you start. It's about where you finish, and I think I'm going out with a bang right now.
ET: What do you enjoy doing when you're not playing football?
CM: I really enjoy relaxing and spending time with my family whenever I can. I consider myself to be a big movie watcher. I enjoy watching all the new movies and critiquing them.
ET: What's the most recent movie you saw?
CM: I just saw "Changeling" with Angelina Jolie that was directed by Clint Eastwood, and I really liked Eastwood's "Gran Torino." I saw some of his earlier work like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and I think he's a fantastic actor and director. I like catching up on all the movies and doing my own critique like Siskel and Roper.
CM: We have a lot of similarities and differences. With Rey, you're going to get a physical presence in the middle – someone who can take command of the defense, make the calls and execute them. With Cush, you're going to get his high intensity, the way he gets after the ball and makes plays, his willingness to fly around. And with me, you're going to get someone with a complete grasp of the defense who's going to know where people are – a heady and smart player who uses his athleticism to make plays. Put all three of us together, and it makes one heckuva combination.
ET: How about off the field?
CM: That's another area where we are both the same and different. Cush is obviously an east-coast boy. That's close to his heart, and we give him a hard time about that. Rey is Rey. He's a very humble guy, quiet, to himself and enjoys life. I'm not sure how to describe myself. I'm sure they could do a good job if you ever talk to them. We enjoy making fun of each other, but at the same time we push each other. We've become who we are today through that competition, and that's what Coach Carroll stresses each and every day. Without the two of them, I wouldn't be the player that I am today.
CLICK HERE for more on USC linebacker Clay Matthews from Scout.com.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.
NFL Draft Q&A: LB Clay Matthews
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