Clay Matthews said he didn’t push for his move back to outside linebacker. But he’s glad that’s the plan after toiling for the past season-and-a-half at inside linebacker.
“I’ve always tried to be a team player,” the Green Bay Packers’ Pro Bowl linebacker said on Thursday. “I think I kind of exemplified that in making the switch. I don’t think many players would do that with the success I’d like to think I had on the outside. But I think it really helped this team out. There were times that, I mean, you look statistically where we went as a defense both in rush statistics as well as pass. But I think at the end of the day, they see my most natural and most impactful position as a pass rusher.”
Matthews’ move to inside linebacker saved the 2014 season and pushed the Packers to the brink of the Super Bowl. He stayed there throughout the 2015 season, moving back to his customary spot at outside linebacker only on passing downs. While he was excellent at inside linebacker — he was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons and finished No. 57 in the “Top 100 Players of 2016” survey conducted by the NFL Network — outside linebacker is where he earned acclaim with four Pro Bowls and 50 sacks in his first five seasons.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced his intentions to the football world a couple days after the season concluded with a playoff loss at Arizona. Matthews found out maybe a day or two earlier during the team’s exit interviews.
“I didn’t walk out of there with a smile on my face,” Matthews said. “It’s always good to put the season in perspective and understand where you’re at and what you’re going to work on moving forward. But with those exit interviews, it’s always difficult because there’s a lot of things you want to get off your chest from the season and things you feel personally or as a team or even on a coaching level you’d like to see improve. But as I’ve continued to say, I think it’s my most natural position, my most impactful position, and I think we’ll see that on a more consistent basis this season.”
With Matthews back in full-time pass-rushing mode, the hope is Green Bay’s defense can take the next step. Denver won the Super Bowl behind pass-rushing stars Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. With the versatility of Matthews and Julius Peppers leading the way, Green Bay’s rush should be formidable.
“I think you were able to see how DeMarcus and Von were able to neutralize not only a very good Carolina offense but really their quarterback, Cam (Newton), who was the MVP, they were able to neutralize him,” Matthews said. “That was kind of the difference in the game. I think that’s what a lot of teams are striving for, especially in this league that’s become more pass happy is finding bookends. Look at Kansas City, Tamba (Hali) and Justin (Houston) were able to get after the quarterback. Going back to James Harrison and (Lamarr) Woodley (of Pittsburgh), Dwight Freeney and (Robert) Mathis (of Indianapolis), those are guys who you remember. Hopefully, that’s the case. The great thing about us two is we can move around the line, as well. We can play inside-outside. Shoot, I can even play inside backer, so it should be a good deal and hopefully we can harass quarterbacks.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.