INDIANAPOLIS – Playing primarily inside linebacker for the second half of 2014 and all of 2015, Clay Matthews played all 16 games both seasons and put up career-high tackle numbers.
Moved back to outside linebacker last season, Matthews played in 12 games and had a career-low number of tackles.
Those facts beg this question: Should inside linebacker once again be Matthews’ primary position?
“Clay, you call him whatever you want,” coach Mike McCarthy said at the Scouting Combine on Wednesday. “He’ll play inside, he’ll play outside. We’ve kind of gone back and forth about what position he lines up at. It’s important for us to keep moving Clay around. He can’t line up in one position. We’re not taking advantage of his talents, his skill-set. We need to continue to do that to create targeting problems for the offense. I don’t know how else to keep saying it.”
McCarthy went on to ask Larry McCarren, the analyst on the Packers Radio Network and a member of the Packers.com staff, to coin a term for Matthews’ position. McCarren said “rover.” McCarthy replied with “monster” or “wildcat.”
The name of the position isn’t the point. When Matthews was primarily an inside linebacker, not only was he active but he was available. In 2012, Matthews missed four games; in 2013, he missed five games. In 2015, when inside linebacker was his primary position throughout the season, he missed a total of 29 snaps and received 97.2 percent playing time. In 2016, however, Matthews played less than half of the snaps – 46.3 percent.
McCarthy thinks all of that is a coincidence – and it certainly might be – though he allowed for the possibility of a link.
“If you want to really get into the dynamics of it, playing outside linebacker, there’s different stress movements that you have to do compared to inside. Is that part of it? It might be,” McCarthy said.
What is undeniable is the Packers need more production from Matthews. He had only 24 tackles last season. His previous career low was 50 in 2013, when he missed five games with his twice-broken thumb. A part-time pass rusher in 2015, Matthews had 6.5 sacks. A full-time pass rusher in 2016, he had only five sacks.
Matthews, who will turn 31 on May 14, had the highest cap charge of any edge defender in the NFL last year, according to OverTheCap.com, at $13.75 million. That swells to $15.075 million for the upcoming season, though that ranks fifth among edge defenders.
That’s a huge sum of money for such meager production. However, it seems Matthews is in no danger of being a cap casualty. Rather, he will be in a marquee role for next season.
“Clay needs to play inside and outside and move around,” McCarthy said.
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.