Outside linebacker is arguably the Green Bay Packers’ biggest need — and the reason isn’t limited to the free-agent departures of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones.
As receiver Jordy Nelson talked about the changes on offense on one side of the room on Tuesday, linebacker Clay Matthews talked about the changes in store for himself on the other side of the room.
Throughout the offseason, coach Mike McCarthy has signaled that Matthews, who is coming off the worst statistical season of his career with five sacks and 24 tackles, would move around the defense more than he did last season to better take advantage of his talents.
“I think the flexibility of myself being able to play multiple positions is really going to help this defense out,” Matthews said on Tuesday, the first day of the team’s offseason program. “It’s really early right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up playing all over the defense.”
Without Peppers and Jones, and without Matthews locked solely into the position, it’s obvious Packers general manager Ted Thompson has a lot of work to do at outside linebacker in next week’s draft. As it stands, the Packers’ depth chart includes Matthews and Nick Perry as the starters, with last year’s third-round pick, Kyler Fackrell, and a special-teams ace who’s produced sporadically on defense, Jayrone Elliott, in reserve.
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“With Nick and myself being on the outside and losing two great players in Julius and Datone, it increases their opportunity to go in there and make plays,” Matthews said. “Jayrone has shown flashes throughout his career; we just ask that he does it on a consistent basis. When he got his opportunities last year, he did. We’ll ask him to keep improving on that. Same with Kyler — being from a small school, a midround guy, coming in here and making a few splash plays. He’ll have what I expect to be more opportunities. With everybody, we just ask that they continue to improve their game, no matter what year they’re in the league.”
Fackrell and Elliott combined to play 296 snaps on defense last season. They’ll have to play more — and do more — for this defense to take a huge jump after ranking 21st in points allowed last season and getting smoked for 44 points in the championship drubbing against the Falcons.
“I just had this conversation with Nick when we got into town,” Matthews said. “We’ve had years where Nick’s had an exceptional year, like last year, and I was bitten by the injury bug. And I’ve had years when I’ve gotten after the quarterback and he hasn’t been able to finish the season. If you’re able to put us together, I think the possibilities are great. Hopefully we can be what Ted and everybody envisioned us when he drafted me in ’09 and (Perry) in ’12.”
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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.