Rookie OLB Matthews making big plays for Packers

Although teammates insist he got snubbed, Clay Matthews III says

he’s honored to be selected as a first alternate for the Pro

Bowl.

It’s the term “rookie” that gets under Matthews’ skin.

“When people call me a rookie, I almost take that as an

insult,” Matthews said. “Because I feel like yes, technically,

I’m a rookie. But I feel like I’m not playing at the level of a

rookie or have the mindset of a rookie.”

The Green Bay Packers’ defense has been the driving force behind

the team’s rally from a 4-4 start to a playoff berth, and Matthews

has spent plenty of time in the spotlight along the way.

Although he didn’t become a full-time starter until mid-October,

Matthews leads the Packers with 10 sacks and three fumble

recoveries.

Matthews credits his family for keeping him humble – his father,

uncle and grandfather played in the NFL – but he doesn’t hold back

when asked about his goals. Despite his impressive pedigree,

Matthews originally went to Southern California as a walk-on.

“I always have something to prove,” Matthews said. “So I’m

not going to let the season get the best of me. I’m not going to

let another player get the best of me. Which has consequently led

me to want to be the best.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy says Matthews is proving to be just

as good as they thought he was when general manager Ted Thompson

traded up to draft him.

“And trust me, the first people to know are the opponent,”

McCarthy said. “When you talk to other coaches, when you talk to

other players, he’s one of the first individuals that people bring

up to me when they talk about my football team. I’m not surprised

he’s getting the recognition. I think he has a great opportunity to

be the defensive rookie of the year. He’s definitely played at that

level.”

Teammates thought Pro Bowl voters overlooked him.

“He should have been in the Pro Bowl, if you ask me,” nose

tackle Ryan Pickett said.

“The guy’s unbelievable,” added fellow first-round pick B.J.

Raji said. “In my opinion, he got snubbed out of the Pro Bowl. He

hands-down should have been playing, if not starting.”

When told that Washington Redskins rookie Brian Orakpo, who has

11 sacks this season, was voted in over Matthews, Raji didn’t

relent.

“Orakpo probably had a great season,” Raji said. “But

(Matthews is) doing it on a playoff team, has the chance to go a

long way. In that sense, he’s a little more valuable.”

Matthews’ season got off to a rocky start. He missed three

preseason games because of a lingering hamstring injury, then began

the regular season playing on passing downs.

His first big moment came in the Packers’ narrow loss at

Minnesota Oct. 5, when he ripped the ball away from Adrian Peterson

and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.

“Yeah, that was like his moment,” Pickett said. “You said,

‘Yeah, he’s going to be special. Going to be a special player.’ It

started then, and he’s just getting better and better – and that’s

the scary part. He’s just a rookie, and he’s only going to get

better.”

It was a breakthrough for Matthews, who hadn’t scored a

touchdown since high school and has admired Peterson’s playing

style since college.

“To create a turnover and score, you think it’s going to get

called back or you’re in a dream or something,” Matthews said.

“But I think that was just a foreshadow of things to come.”

Matthews became a full-time starter in the Packers’ next game

and didn’t disappoint, posting a pair of sacks in a win over

Detroit. The job has been his ever since.

During a recent film session, Matthews compared his play against

Chicago in Week 1 to his play against the Bears earlier this

month.

“The player you saw in the first game was nothing like the

player you saw in that second game,” Matthews said. “The

progression, I think, is remarkable.”

And Matthews believes he has only scratched the surface of his

ability.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “I’ve only been rushing the passer

for two years, and only playing this position for what’s going to

be culminating in two years. The fact that I’m still learning the

nuances of this position, and I’m still able to make plays for my

team is extremely special.”

As is making the playoffs.

“And hopefully it’s not just making the playoffs,” Matthews

said. “It’s getting to the Super Bowl and potentially winning one.

I understand the importance of getting to the playoffs. Because

last year, talking to those guys, going 6-10, when you’re winning

games and going to the playoffs things are a lot different around

here. You really appreciate it, and the hard work that goes into

it.”