Brady Poppinga says he couldn't have "hand-picked" a better draft pick than Clay Matthews III.
"I love it," Poppinga said on Thursday during the final leg of the Packers' Tailgate Tour. "To me, bringing Clay Matthews onto our team has really added a lot to our team in terms of unselfishness, in terms of a team player, in terms of the types of guys that we need to get over the top. I remember watching the guy (at USC) and thinking, ‘Man, it would be great if we could get this guy.' Not only did we get him but we traded up to get him in the first round. I couldn't have gone out into the college pool of players and hand-picked a better player than Clay Matthews. I'm more than excited to have him on our team."
That lofty praise doesn't mean Poppinga is prepared to hand over his spot in the starting lineup without a fight.
Poppinga has started 40 of 48 games over the past three seasons. That includes 12 starts last season, when his play slipped along with the rest of the defense in a disappointing 6-10 season that led to an offseason of upheaval on that side of the ball.
Enter Matthews, who the Packers selected 26th overall at the steep cost of sending one second-round and two third-round draft picks to New England. Beyond the price in terms of draft picks and signing bonus, Matthews is experienced playing an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Don't, however, count out Poppinga. The scheme demands an aggressive and physical player, and there's not a more aggressive or physical player on the Packers' defense than the fifth-year pro out of Brigham Young.
"It's perfect. It's something that's really what I'm made to do," Poppinga said. "Being a rusher is something that's always been in me, and really, that's what put me on the map as a football player at the college level is being a rusher. To be asked to do that again and have that mantle on my shoulders to go get pressure on the quarterback and make sacks and do what it takes to really be disruptive for an offense, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity. I appreciate that opportunity and I accept that mantle and responsibility to go do that."
Poppinga tallied 20 sacks during his final three seasons at BYU, including a conference-leading eight as a sophomore. With the Packers desperate to improve their lackluster pass rush late last season, Poppinga saw action at defensive end on passing downs but never got close to the quarterback.
He has three sacks in his professional career but none the last two years. However, because of his coverage responsibilities in the old scheme, Poppinga didn't get much of an opportunity to sharpen his pass-rushing skills. That will be different in the new scheme.
"The key with the pass rush is doing it. You've got to be able to do it, to train it," Poppinga said. "I didn't really do much of it last year. The Packer Nation doesn't really know me as a rusher, but this year, they're going to be able to see me as a rusher, and that's really something that's part of my strength as a player that nobody's really been able to see before. Going back to college, what put me on the map was my ability to get after the quarterback. To be able to do that role again and be a rusher and have that responsibility on your shoulder to put pressure on the quarterback and to be able to train it and be able to prepare myself in that role, I'm looking forward to it."
It will help that he'll be mentored by outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, the NFL's all-time leader in sacks among linebackers. Poppinga calls Greene an "awesome, awesome pickup." Beyond simply getting to rush the passer, Poppinga is excited to be in a scheme that he says better suits his gung-ho personality.
"Oh, yeah. It's the best job because you don't have to hold anything back," he said. "When you're in a situation where you need to cover, it puts you in a bind where you can't really let it all hang out because you have to hold something back to be in a position to put yourself in coverage if so called upon or if the play requires it. For a guy like me who's very aggressive and is a go-getter, that was a big challenge to transition to play that kind of role. To come back to do what I'm great at, doing what I'm really meant to do, I think people are going to be very, very happy."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.