Matthews had a brilliant rookie season with 10 sacks and three fumble recoveries, becoming the Green Bay Packers' first rookie to play in the Pro Bowl since James Lofton in 1978. He's expecting more out of himself this season.
"I feel so much more comfortable now," he said. "Obviously, last year at this time, you're nervous. For me, it was a battle to try to get into the (starting) spot. I was injured at the time and just trying to stay on the field. You don't want to make mistakes. You don't want to let anybody down. There's pressure on you, being a first-round pick. Now, you can just go out and have fun. that's what it boils down to. I know the defense, I know the guys, we communicate well. It's just going out and making plays. That's all it boils down to, and just being more of a leader."
Not that Matthews' teammates can expect any Ray Lewis-style fire-and-brimstone speeches. Rather, Matthews is going from seen-but-not-heard rookie to someone who wants to point the way for his teammates.
"I'm more of a lead-by-example type guy," Matthews said. "I'm not a rah-rah type guy. I like to make plays, know what I'm doing, talk to the other guys, give them praise and just show these young guys — even the veterans — that I know what I'm doing and I'm here to stay. I consider that leading by example."
Matthews said he put on between 5 and 7 pounds of muscle during the offseason to prepare for what will be a different challenge. Last year, it was getting healthy, learning the ropes and winning a starting job. This year, it will be beating blocking schemes designed specifically to stop him. It's the game plan the Cardinals used in the playoff game, and while Matthews wound up recording one sack, Matthews couldn't beat the barrage of double teams and chip blocks and nobody else could get to Kurt Warner consistently enough to disrupt Arizona's passing game.
Warner threw five touchdown passes — which was one more than his incompletion total — and the Packers' season ended. This season will start with the near-certainty that opposing offenses will emulate that strategy.
"It's definitely frustrating when you start getting double teamed but it's the natural progression of a good pass rusher in this league," Matthews said. "You start off going against tackles, then you get chipped, then you get double teamed. The great pass rushers, they have to go against that. It's nothing I'm not going to get used to. I've been talking with a few of the guys from the running backs how about I'd like them to chip on me and try to get used to it."
Unless another pass rusher or rushers emerge to help Matthews, he's going to have a hard time repeating his breakout rookie campaign.
"I have goals for myself, but for camp, it's just stay healthy, work hard and improve on my game," Matthews said. "When the season rolls around, I'll have individual statistics that I'll want to improve upon. Obviously as a team, there's overall statistics that we'll want to improve upon. In the end, the reason why we play this game is to get to the championship. That's really what the ultimate goal is."
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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.