Then he’s lined up at right outside linebacker.
Then he’s lined up as basically a slot cornerback.
Then he’s handing out the gelatin snacks and cookies during midpractice breaks.
Well, maybe not that one, but it is clear that Matthews – probably more than ever – will be a focal point of a defense that needs to make dramatic improvement if the Green Bay Packers are going to get through Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans in the stacked NFC.
“He’s an impact player,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think any time you go through offense, defense, special teams, when you have an impact player, you want to create targeting problems. It’s a lot easier from an offensive perspective if you know exactly where the guys are lining up every time.”
Allowing the Packers the additional creativity is the addition of Julius Peppers. After all, you can’t line up Matthews here, there and everywhere if the other outside linebacker isn’t capable of doing the same.
“It definitely helps,” Matthews said of adding Peppers to the mix. “I think we're all about taking advantage of mismatches, but any time you could add someone of Peppers' caliber to the line, who gets after the quarterback and has a proven sack record, it definitely helps. At the same time, the same is expected of me no matter where I'm at in the line, whether it's left, right, in the middle. So, I'll be expected to handle my plays accordingly, as well as him.”
Defensive lineman Mike Daniels, one of the emerging forces and leaders of the team, called that duo “scary.”
“You have two of the greatest to have ever done it on the same team, how much better could it get? That speaks for itself,” Daniels said.
If Matthews is the Packers’ version of “Batman,” he’s never played up with a “Robin” with anything resembling the productivity of Peppers. In Matthews’ five seasons in the league, the Packers’ second-leading sacker among outside linebackers was Mike Neal’s five sacks last season. Peppers’ lowest sack total of the past five seasons was last year’s 7.5.
“It feels great, obviously, to have another guy outside of me,” Matthews said. “I think I played with I couldn't tell you how many outside linebackers and the continuity that I tried to have with them, but now with a guy as established as Julius coming in here, with his resume that speaks for itself, he's only going to help myself out and this defense out and present a lot of problems for the offense. I'm really looking forward to that, as well as a defense that's in need of another playmaker. I think he offers that and he'll bring that and he's going to help this team this year.”
Through the first few seasons of Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, outside linebacker was a weakness, with Matthews pairing with a bunch of undrafted free agents (Dezman Moses, Vic So’oto and Frank Zombo), a seventh-round pick (Brad Jones) and a street free agent (Erik Walden), along with two holdovers (Aaron Kampan and Brady Poppinga)
This group of outside linebackers has the potential to become a strength if enough of the question marks are answered affirmatively. Can the 34-year-old Peppers make the transition and provide a season-long impact? Can 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry stay healthy and be an impact player, like he was at the start of last season? Can Mike Neal stay healthy and take another step in his transition? Can 2014 fourth-round pick Carl Bradford make a splash? Can Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer take a second-season jump, or can undrafted rookies Adrian Hubbard or Jay Elliott provide a spark?
With the potential for outstanding depth, Capers appears set to lean on that group, with Matthews being the prime beneficiary.
“As you guys saw, they definitely had me moving around from lining up in the middle of the field as a stack backer to the left, to the right, lining up in the slot, and just putting more of our playmakers on the field,” Matthews said. “I think the problem that it presents for the offense is so many moving pieces. It allows me to use a multitude of my weapons and not just lining up in one spot rushing the passer. I think I bring a multitude of weapons to the game and I think I could do that through lining up all over the field. I think it's about mismatches and putting us in advantageous positions.”
QUARTERBACK SACKS FROM ‘OTHER’ OLBs
2013: Neal, 5; Perry, 4; Mulumba, 1. Total: 10. Matthews: 7.5. Peppers (CHI): 7.5.
2012: Moses, 4; Walden, 3; Perry, 2. Total: 9. Matthews: 13.0. Peppers (CHI): 11.5.
2011: Walden, 3; Jones, 1; So’oto, 1; Zombo, 1. Total: 6. Matthews: 6.0. Peppers (CHI): 11.0.
2010: Zombo, 4; Walden, 3; Poppinga, 1. Total: 8. Matthews: 13.5. Peppers (CHI): 8.0.
2009: Jones, 4; Kampman, 3.5; Poppinga, 1. Total: 8.5. Matthews: 10.0. Peppers (CAR): 10.5.
Totals: “Other” outside linebackers: 41.5. Matthews: 50.0. Peppers: 48.5.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.