Meet players meeting Packers

Seven defensive players are meeting with the Packers ... who are they and what are they saying?

Based on the decidedly unscientific method of asking the prospects if they had scheduled private meetings with the Packers, it appears Green Bay is going to take the rather obvious approach of trying to improve their defense in April's draft.

Over the first two days of the Scouting Combine here in Indianapolis, only three offensive players asked by Packer Report or other members of the team said they had meetings set with Green Bay. On Saturday alone, seven defensive players said they had meetings scheduled with the Packers.

These numbers must be prefaced by saying it was not possible to ask all of the prospects who they were talking to, since sometimes six or seven are holding court at the same time. Other prospects were not sure which teams were on their agenda.

With that said, three of the seven were profiled earlier by Packer Report and represent potential first-round draft picks: defensive ends/outside linebackers Brian Orakpo of Texas and Aaron Maybin of Penn State, along with defensive tackle B.J. Raji of Boston College

Here are four others:

Clay Matthews Jr., outside linebacker, USC: Matthews wasn't even a starter until a few weeks into his senior season. He finished with just 4.5 sacks while playing with the Trojans' star-studded linebacking corps.

But after a strong Senior Bowl, many insiders think Matthews will be a better pro linebacker than his touted teammates, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. That means Matthews – a former 160-pound walk-on -- will be a first-round draft choice and be off the board before the Packers pick at No. 41 of the second round. So, if they love Matthews – whose uncle, Bruce Matthews, played in Houston with Packers general manager Ted Thompson and scout Alonzo Highsmith – they'll have to make a move.

"I really enjoyed talking to those guys about my dad (Clay Matthews) and Bruce," Matthews said of his meeting with the Packers.

The family ties were a hot topic on Friday. He's proud of his background and would love to duplicate their longevity (both played 19 NFL seasons) and success (Bruce is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame), but he's ready to "create my own footsteps."

"I was too young to really understand and appreciate what my father was doing at the time," he said. "I think I was more interested in what food I was going to get at the game rather than watching him. It's unfortunate, but at the same time, he's been very influential and beneficial for me"

Gerald McGrath, inside linebacker, Southern Mississippi: At 6-foot-1, 231 pounds, McGrath lacks size, but his productivity (137 tackles last season) had him come out of school a year early.

McGrath isn't lacking for intelligence. He got his degree in sports administration in 2007 and, at the ripe old age of 22, he is working on his master's. He's a student of the game and his passion for playing it is evident. He's practically the definition of "Packer People."

"I felt like this was time for me to come out," he said. "I'm very competitive. I feel like this is a strong challenge. Some people might feel like I should have stayed a year, but ultimately, it will be up to my performance that will dictate my future. Nothing's guaranteed."

Zack Follett, linebacker, California: The hard-hitting Follett packs quite a punch at 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds. Aggressive should be his middle name. He laid a de-cleater block on a teammate, star center Alex Mack, after an interception at practice.

"I get real pumped up for games," Follett, with 10.5 sacks as a senior, said. "This is something I love to do, and to do it in front of 70,000 fans, plus people watching at home on an ESPN game, that gets me even more juiced. To go out and have a chance to be on ESPN like that, I think they had me miked up for the game and I was talking about the Pain Train. And growing up, Terry Tate, No. 56, the Office Linebacker, he was my hero watching those commercials (check out YouTube if you don't recall the commercials). I tried to emulate him when I was out there."

He's another "Packer People" kind of guy (his affection for Brian Urlacher notwithstanding). His love of the game is evident, and his intelligence is a big asset. He says he can add weight but hasn't done so because he wants to run a fast time on Monday. Follett has experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but his small size might keep him as an inside linebacker.

Marcus Freeman, linebacker, Ohio State: Freeman was a productive three-year starter. As a senior, he was the No. 2 tackler and had 3.5 sacks. In the 2007 and 2008 BCS title games, he had a combined 29 tackles.

Freeman, who said A.J. Hawk was a big influence, played strong-side linebacker and was an edge rusher for the Buckeyes. Experts say the 240-pounder could bulk up to play on the outside in a 3-4 defense, and Freeman says he could play inside and outside in a 3-4.

"Being athletic," he said when asked about his strength. "I think that can help you in many ways, get yourself out of bad situations and put yourself in good situations. I think being at Ohio State, you're ready to play in the NFL."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at

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