As his recovery from a twice-broken right thumb is keeping him sidelined, the offseason addition of Julius Peppers and the changes that are ahead for the Packers' defense have Matthews envisioning big possibilities.
"Yeah, it really does," Matthews responded to a question of whether it excites him seeing the defensive changes, "especially coming back this offseason and coming in here a little early before we started, and talking with (defensive coordinator) Dom (Capers) and (head coach) Mike (McCarthy) and (linebackers coach) Winston (Moss), the new position coach, with the plans they see me having this year and the type of player they see me becoming, I think it's great the changes that we're putting in, not only with the personnel, the scheme, I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's a shot in the arm and will provide kind of a little rejuvenation to this team, especially to the defensive side of this locker room. I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully it will present some problems for opponents."
The plan for this Packers defense is to roll back the scheme and volume and instead favor different personnel packages. For Matthews — who lined up as the right outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 base scheme in 2013 — that could mean more opportunities from different spots on the field.
"Well, I think they'll be able to use not only my ability to rush the passer but also my ability to play in coverage as well as present some mismatches against not only tackles but centers, guards, backs, tight ends," said Matthews. "So, I think that we're going to be able to present some issues for the opponent, especially with mismatches, as we talked about with bringing Julius in and with some other guys and some of the packages we have going in, we should allow ourselves to put a few more playmakers on the field and allow certain players to be jack of all trades."
The Packers have moved Matthews around before. Packers fans might remember his explosive start to the 2010 season, when he recorded 12 tackles, six sacks, eight quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, and one forced fumble against the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills alone. The Packers used Matthews on both ends of the defensive line and even up the middle in those two games. On at least two impact plays, he rushed from a two-point stance as part of a three-man defensive line. The Packers also used their "psycho" package for a handful of plays, which featured extra linebackers and just one defensive lineman.
Matthews finished the 2010 season with 17 sacks (including the postseason) transitioning from right outside linebacker in 2009 to left. He moved back to right outside linebacker in 2012, when the Packers drafted Nick Perry in the first round. Perry joins Matthews, Peppers and Mike Neal, among others, at outside linebacker to give the defense options. At inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore head the depth chart.
"It just seems like a lot of the linebackers have taken on roles that require them not only to be the traditional 3-4 linebacker or 4-3 (linebacker) but to do both, whether that's one minute rushing against a tackle or playing out on the slot receiver," said Matthews. "Really, I think it just provides a lot of versatility for the guys we have here and I think rather than making players fit into certain schemes, we're making those schemes fit around players now. I think it's great for the personnel that we have and what we're trying to accomplish moving forward.
"I doubt I'm going to have to sacrifice statistics, because I always feel like I can make my plays," Matthews continued later, "but at the same time, there will be some opportunities to present some mismatches, so it may not be your traditional line-up-here-line-up-there. There might be a little more difficulty for the offense, narrowing in on certain players, especially with the personnel that we brought in, myself included, moving around a little bit more and just having fun with it. It seems like we're going to have a little more fun on defense and be able to make a few more things."
Matthews re-broke his right thumb in a Dec. 22 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He initially broke it Oct. 6 against the Detroit Lions. In between, he missed four games before returning first with a hard, protective club cast and then with a soft, less restrictive cast.
In 11 games played in 2013, he still led the team with 7.5 sacks and added 50 tackles and three forced fumbles.
"I'm feeling good," said Matthews last week, "It's been a long offseason, obviously, with the surgeries and the rehab and the physical therapy and all that. But it's definitely coming along. As I said a little in this offseason, I'd probably be limited in the OTAs portion of this offseason but I'm doing everything I can to get back out there as soon as I can. Part of that is the physical therapy, rehab and continue to work out and get stronger. So, I don't see there being any hindrance toward the beginning of the season, toward (training) camp, but obviously I'm speaking a few months in advance. So, we'll keep getting stronger and, hopefully, by that time, be ready to roll."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com