Finally healthy this week, they'll be the starting outside linebackers on Sunday at Philadelphia.
"We're ready to go," coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday. "There's nothing ... I can't change the past, I can't change how the preseason turned out for both players. But I'm confident we'll be ready to go when we get up there Sunday."
Training camp is a necessary evil, even for the wisest of veterans. Well, Jones and Matthews aren't the wisest of veterans. Both were rookies last year. Matthews played in the Pro Bowl with a 10-sacks season as the second of the team's first-round picks. Jones, a seventh-round pick, was surprisingly strong in replacing Aaron Kampman for the final seven games of last season, finishing with four sacks.
Matthews and Jones have more in common than just their position and experience. Matthews injured his hamstring during the first week of training camp last year and missed the first three preseason games. Jones injured his back during the pre-training camp conditioning test last year and missed the first 16 days of camp.
Matthews started the season as a reserve but wound up starting the final 13 games. His performance last year gives the Packers comfort that he'll be impactful against the Eagles, even though he missed a month with another hamstring injury.
"Clay's one of those guys that I don't think it takes (a lot of practice time)," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Clay can see the big picture. He's smart, he's got good football instincts, and he's the kind of guy you can make adjustments with on gameday. I think he'll be fine."
If that's the case, who needs practice?
"In the words of Allen Iverson ..." Matthews said before interrupting himself with a laugh while channeling Iverson's famous, "We're talking about practice" rant.
"I know I'm only a year in but I like to consider myself a professional, not just in regards to me being part of the NFL but I just mean how I watch film, how I approach practice, just my job," he said. "I think I do that at a level that, like Dom said, that you're able to see the big picture. This is a long season. I understand what they're asking of me, I understand what I need to do within the framework of the defense. Fortunately for me, missing practice isn't the worst thing. I don't think there should be much of a drop-off coming back. I feel good coming into this week."
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who said he never entered a regular season with so little practice time, agrees with Capers' "big picture" assessment.
"He has the vision," Greene said when asked to explain Capers' comments about Matthews. "He knows not just his specific job but he knows how everybody fits together in the defense. He knows this guy's rotating over here and this is where my help is, and the backer's coming in here and I can drop that shallow crosser because this guy's going to take over now. He knows where everybody fits in the pieces of the puzzle. He has a vision of all the job descriptions as far coverage."
Along with that son-of-a-NFL-linebacker knowledge of the game, Matthews simply is a playmaker. Along with his 10 sacks, Matthews recovered three fumbles and forced one. As a pass rusher, Matthews combines speed to get around the corner, power to bull rush and the ability to turn his shoulders to give the offensive tackle a smaller target. On top of that, the coaches marvel at his relentlessness.
No doubt the Packers need Matthews to deliver, since the No. 1 defense didn't get a sack in the preseason.
"All you have to look at, he had 10 sacks for us last year," Capers said. "He was a big part of our pass rush. I think we know a lot more about Clay now than we did at this time last year. We liked Clay, but he was a rookie. Clay's a guy that can do what you ask him to do. To me, he's what you're looking for as an outside linebacker. You can rush him, you can drop him, he's physical on the run, he's smart, all those things you try to look for in an outside linebacker."
As for Jones, who missed time in this camp with back and shoulder injuries, Greene says Jones has that same big-picture feel for the game and knowledge of the defense that Matthews does.
"Absolutely, that's why my comfort level," Greene said. "I feel pretty good about them because they're both smart kids and they have the vision."
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