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Most Important Packers of 2012 -- #2: Clay Matthews, OLB

Jul 23, 2012 -- 10:42pm
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GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews gave the Green Bay Packers 2012 draft two huge thumbs up.

“I’m a selfish player,” Matthews said. “So I like the fact that we got some studs who are going to help this team out.”

And no one will be getting more help than Matthews, who in his third NFL season had a career-low six sacks in 2011. While Matthews bears some responsibility for that measly number – no matter how many blockers he had to face – there’s no question that the lack of another legitimate pass-rushing threat had an impact on his productivity. Erik Walden, a 15-game starter opposite Matthews, couldn’t replicate his surprising 2010 contributions; Frank Zombo couldn’t stay healthy; and Brad Jones didn’t get an opportunity until the end of the season. Meanwhile, the team missed defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who left as a free agent, and saw B.J. Raji fail to generate the interior pressure he had a year earlier.

“You look historically at 3-4 defenses and the success of outside linebackers, there’s two studs coming off the edge. Even in today’s game, you look at Pittsburgh, the (Dallas) Cowboys, some of those teams, they’ve got some studs,” Matthews said. “It comes down to being a team game but there are positions that can help you more than others.”

Enter first-round pick Nick Perry, who is penciled in as the starter on the opposite side, and Jerel Worthy, a big-bodied defensive lineman who should bolster the interior rush. Both should help Matthews by drawing attention away from him; others, like intriguing undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Dezman Moses, could emerge as well.

That said, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene believes Matthews, who has been elected to the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons, can be challenged to do more.

“You can never let him think he’s arrived. You’ve always got to challenge him,” Greene said of Matthews, who did very little in organized team activity practices and the mandatory mincamp.. “You basically try to keep him grounded, you try to treat him like all the other kids in the room, and then you always try to inspire him to achieve greatness. You hold him accountable. When he’s messing up, you tell him. And when he does something right, you love him, just like all your other kids.”

Matthews has done plenty right in his first three seasons. Now the Packers, after ranking dead last in the 32-team NFL, need more from him. He’ll line up on the right side, as he did as a rookie in 2009, but will also move around.

“I feel good,” Matthews said. “Obviously, with Nick coming in here, bringing a presence off the edge, it’s only going to help us out. The misnomer about the position is that we’re stuck to one side. On paper, it’s going to say ‘left outside linebacker’ or ‘right outside linebacker.’ Really, those positions are interchangeable, so the faster we can get him up to speed, the faster we can have some fun moving him around, flying around and making some plays together.”

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