Clay Matthews finally returned to practice on Wednesday. But is it too late for him to make an impact this season?
Matthews, who during the first week of training camp aggravated a hamstring injury that kept him out for most of the offseason practices, was a full participant during Wednesday's final practice before Friday's third preseason game at Arizona.
Coach Mike McCarthy classified Matthews as "doubtful" for the game, which means the first-round pick from USC will have one week of training camp and the preseason finale at Tennessee to impress a coaching staff that was forced to turn the page almost three weeks ago.
"When he's been out there, he's showed some things, he's made some progress when he's been able to stay out there," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said recently. "Obviously, when he's not out there, it's hard to evaluate him and it's hard to see improvement when a guy's not out on the field."
Matthews returns to a position that bares little resemblance to the landscape before the injury. At the time, he was alternating with Jeremy Thompson as the starter at right outside linebacker. But with Matthews and Thompson out for significant stretches — Thompson returned full-time on Tuesday — the coaches were forced to move veteran Brady Poppinga from the left side, where he was a backup to Aaron Kampman, to the right side, where he became the starter by default.
Since then, Poppinga has seized control the position. He had an interception and a fumble recovery on Saturday against Buffalo. Clearly, Matthews understands that time is of the essence if he wants to be a major contributor early in the season. He'll have three practices next week before facing the Titans.
"That was one of the reasons why I wanted to get back," he said. "Generally, you want to think that one week isn't enough, but I feel very comfortable with the playbook. I feel comfortable with the scheme. Now, I just need to get some action and have some live plays. Once that's done, I hope they have nothing but praise for me."
While Matthews feels a sense of urgency, there's no such urgency from the coaching staff. Not with the defense allowing zero first-half points in the first two preseason games.
"Well, they're doing an outstanding job, so I'm looking to just help them improve in any way that I can," Matthews said. "I just want to come in and start making some plays, just like everybody else. The great thing about this defense is everyone has the opportunity to create sacks, interceptions, fumbles. I just want to be a part of that."
Flynn ‘doubtful' for Friday
"I'm sure he wants to practice and I'm sure he'd like to play," McCarthy said. "It's a bruise, and if this was a regular-season game, I think he would be able to play. Dr. McKenzie feels it is best that we give him another week, so that's what we're going to do."
That leaves the Packers with Rodgers and Brohm for Friday. McCarthy said the starters would play the entire first half and "potentially" into the third quarter. What happens if Brohm goes down against the Cardinals? Would McCarthy risk putting Rodgers on the field if surrounded by backups?
"If we have to," McCarthy said.
Joining Flynn on the sideline were punter Durant Brooks (hip flexor), cornerback Pat Lee (back), safeties Charlie Peprah (knee) and Aaron Rouse (hamstring), cornerback Will Blackmon (knee) and defensive end Justin Harrell (back). Matthews and Desmond Bishop (toe) were back.
Nick Barnett again took a lot of reps at practice but McCarthy called him doubtful to face the Cardinals.
— Veteran lineman Tony Moll and rookie linebacker Cyril Obiozor got into a fight late in practice. Obiozor got Moll reeling with a powerful inside pass rush. When Obiozor got past him, Moll shoved him in the back, and the two eventually wound up on the ground. It was a rare right during a relatively low-impact shorts-and-helmets practice.
— Jeremy Kapinos averaged 41.2 yards on six punts — three with the wind and three against it — and his hang time wasn't as good as it has been. His average dipped a bit with a 27-yard floater while kicking from the defense's 40-yard line, though.
— During a seven-on-seven two-minute drill, the No. 1 offense stalled against a defense of reserves. After Aaron Rodgers killed the clock, he threw incomplete to Donald Lee (Anthony Smith breakup), Greg Jennings (Brandon Underwood breakup) and James Jones (led too far). The No. 2 group scored, with Brohm threading the needle with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Ruvell Martin.
— Al Harris was needled by his teammates for dropping three interceptions, including on back-to-back plays in the end zone — the second of which, Harris eagerly pointed out, was knocked away by receiver Jake Allen. Later, though, Harris got his interception, his second in as many days.
— The offense scored two touchdowns off of the hands of defensive players. Brohm's pass was batted in the air by Brad Jones. Jones couldn't find it but Tyrell Sutton did, and he scored from a few yards out. Later, Trevor Ford got his fingertips on a bomb from Rodgers to James Jones, and the ball glanced right into Jones' hands for a long touchdown.
— Practice ended 20 minutes early, a credit to the tempo and efficiency of practice, McCarthy said. That's the fastest in his tenure, he said.
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