What can you say about Clay Matthews?
The Green Bay Packers’ stud outside linebacker has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons. In 36 total games (including playoffs), he has 28 sacks and been part of 11 turnover plays (five forced fumbles, five recovered fumbles and one interception).
He’s relentless. He’s explosive. He’s smart. He’s clutch. All of that was at play in the Super Bowl. On the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Steelers driving toward a go-ahead score, he recognized the play, ad-libbed with Ryan Pickett and forced the game-changing fumble by star Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Playing right outside linebacker as a rookie, Matthews was tremendous. But it was a conversation with defensive coordinator Dom Capers during training camp last summer that unleashed Matthews like never before. Capers broached the idea of moving Matthews to left outside linebacker. Capers asked Matthews to try it for a week, and if he didn’t feel comfortable, Capers said he would call off the experiment.
“‘We’d like to be able to move you around because it would give our defense a lot more flexibility,’” Capers related of that conversation to a few reporters on Wednesday. “‘If you could play left, right, inside, believe me, it would be good for you and it would be good for us.’ If you talked to Clay now, he wouldn’t have it any other way because it makes it harder for the people playing across from him.”
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By being put into position to take advantage of matchups, Matthews went from 10 sacks in 16 games (13 starts) in 2009 to 13.5 sacks in 15 games (15 starts) in 2010.
Matthews is great, but for the second consecutive draft, general manager Ted Thompson declined to provide a big-time sidekick. But Frank Zombo (five sacks) and Erik Walden (four) combined for nine sacks in 14 starts. For context, among 3-4 outside linebackers, only Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley had more sacks as a team’s “second fiddle.” Brad Jones had four sacks in seven starts in 2009 but none in 2010. Sixth-round rookie Ricky Elmore was one of the nation’s best pass rushers as a junior and senior at Arizona but slid down draft boards because he lacks elite athletic ability.
Also in the derby for roster spots: holdovers Diyral Briggs and Robert Francois and undrafted rookies Vic So’Oto of BYU and Jamari Lattimore of Middle Tennessee State. Briggs proved his value on special teams last season with six tackles in five games during the regular season and five tackles in the playoffs.
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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.