Asked if he knew anything about the Bengals' linebackers — 2008 first-round pick Keith Rivers also played for the Trojans — Matthews laughed and told Packer Report: "A few things. I was obviously fortunate enough to play with Keith and Rey. Keith was my roommate for three years, so I know a thing or two about him."
Rivers was the eighth selection in 2008. He had his rookie season cut short by a broken jaw delivered courtesy of a crunching block by Steelers receiver Hines Ward. Rivers, starting on the weak side of the Bengals' 4-3 defense, had five tackles last week. Maualuga, starting on the strong side, finished with eight tackles.
"It will be fun to watch them play," Matthews said. "Obviously, we're on different teams now so we're each playing for our own individual squad. I think deep down, I'll be rooting for them to play to the best of their abilities. I'll be looking forward to watching Rey and Keith out there. This is Keith's second year in the league, and Rey coming out and us being in the same draft class, we've spent a lot of time together. It will be fun to see him and how he's developing."
During the months leading to the draft, Matthews, Maualuga and Cushing were waging their own three-headed battle to be the first Trojans linebacker off the board. From the Senior Bowl to the Scouting Combine, each tried to outrun or outlift the other in a friendly rivalry.
That rivalry will never die.
"I think it will always be there," Matthews said. "I think it's definitely died down since we're now taking our own paths in life and with our own teams. But definitely, because we come from the same school and we have such great tradition and great players and a great linebacker tradition, I think we're all going to be trying to get the most tackles, the most sacks, the most publicity, the most everything. See who's the first to do it. I think that all stems from the competition aspect that we had over at SC and what (coach Pete) Carroll preaches. It's definitely something that we're going to keep close to us. I've been real close not only with Cush and Rey, but also (Jets quarterback Mark) Sanchez and (Browns fourth-round linebacker) Kaluka (Maiava), just to see how everyone's doing. There's always a little battle, but at the same time, we're all pulling for each other."
Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were two of USC's star linebackers. Jeff Golden/Getty
Matthews said he's kept in contact with his former USC teammates, and Maualuga said he'd be calling Matthews "to talk it up and talk trash."
"It's something I'm looking forward to," Maualuga told reporters in Cincinnati. "You play with these guys for an ‘x' amount of years. You leave and once they were your teammates and now not so your enemy but the people you're competing against. It's awesome to know that your friends are also in the league and doing well and doing good for themselves."
With the Packers playing on Sunday night last week, Matthews tuned in to watch Sanchez throw for 272 yards and one touchdown in a 24-7 win over the Texans. Cushing had five tackles for Houston after missing all of the preseason with a knee sprain. Cushing and Sanchez were roommates at USC.
"He had a fantastic game," Matthews said of Sanchez. "I'm real proud of him."
Of the three Trojans linebackers selected early in the draft, only Matthews wasn't a Week 1 starter. Brady Poppinga is the starter at right outside linebacker, but Matthews — who had one tackle against Chicago — replaces him in nickel situations. The Packers played about 65 percent of their snaps in nickel against Chicago and figure to play a heavy dose of it against against the Bengals.
"I thought it went well," Matthews said of his debut, which came after he missed the first three games of the preseason with a hamstring injury. "Statistically, I'd like to have a few more tackles here and there, but I thought I did a number of things in regards to setting up other players. So, I thought it went well for my first game out there after coming back from an injury. I thought it went well and I can only continue to improve. That's the great thing about this is we've got another game coming up against Cincinnati."
And that means facing quarterback Carson Palmer from ... you guessed it, USC. Matthews said he's met Palmer a "few times," though they didn't cross paths at USC.
"He's an outstanding pocket passer," Matthews said. "I don't know if he's as mobile as (the Bears' Jay) Cutler, but at the same time, he can pick you apart if you let him sit back there for a day. Just like for any quarterback, you've got to keep him on the run. We'll look to do that and hopefully we can get him out of the pocket and making some errors, but he's an outstanding quarterback, and I think he's shown that throughout his years."
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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. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.