GREEN BAY, Wis. — Clay Matthews has a history with hamstring injuries. While that issue has kept the Green Bay Packers’ star outside linebacker out of five full games — and several other partial games — throughout his career, it’s taught Matthews how to handle it.
That experience allowed Matthews to confidently stand at his locker Thursday afternoon and declare himself as being healthy and ready for the Packers’ Week 5 matchup with the Detroit Lions.
“Yes, I plan to play,” Matthews said. “I’m going to be out there this Sunday. It’s feeling good.”
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Matthews left in the second quarter of Green Bay’s game in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals after a play in which he sacked quarterback Andy Dalton and forced a fumble. The consequence of that positive play, though, was Matthews injuring his hamstring.
Matthews was limited in practice Wednesday but was a full participant Thursday. He benefited from the Packers having a Week 4 bye, admitting that he didn’t know whether he would have been able to play if there had been a game last weekend.
“It was a fortuitous bye week, I’ll say that,” Matthews said.
Matthews, along with Green Bay’s medical staff, came to the conclusion during the game in Cincinnati to hold him out for the entire second half. That might not have been the result early in Matthews’ career.
“I think I’ve become a lot smarter,” Matthews said. “Obviously a younger Clay would’ve kind of pressed the issue and maybe would’ve hurt himself even more so. I think we were smart with the events that took place in Cincinnati and where we’re at now. Fortunately, there will be no time missed. I’m feeling good.”
Matthews later added that “a younger Clay thought the world was over and I was going to be cut the next day and I’m not living up to the billing” when he suffered hamstring injuries.
“I’ve come to, not accept it, but to understand the rehab process,” Matthews said.
Matthews missed four games last season with a hamstring injury, so being sidelined for just one half of one game doesn’t seem like much. But if there is any concern that Matthews won’t be as effective in his first game coming back from an injury, he would beg to differ.
“I came back after four games last year and how many sacks did I have against Chicago?” Matthews asked aloud before answering his own question. “Two, and then I had one, one and then two and then one — no, then two, then one. Yeah, I remember those things.”
Matthews was correct. Over the final five games last season (playoffs included), Matthews had seven sacks, and they happened in exactly the order he described.
“The first part of getting over a hamstring strain is healing, and obviously I can’t control that,” Matthews said. “But coming back the final hurdle you have to overcome is mentally are you comfortable with exerting 100 percent effort or even more so. I wouldn’t put myself out there if I wasn’t, and obviously that’s this week what we’ve built up to.
“Coming in on Monday, I felt good. I obviously had to prove to myself and to the coaches that I’m capable of not only being able to run and cut and do everything I need to but do it at a high level to where it won’t affect this defense. So I feel good about it. I don’t think you’ll see a drop-off come Sunday.”
Matthews played 90 percent of the defensive snaps last season in the games he was available for, but he probably won’t be on the field that often Sunday.
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to have to come off the field; Will I come off the field? Probably,” Matthews said. “I think I need to be smart, not only for me personally coming off the Cincinnati game, but also just the longevity of the season.”
Matthews insisted that he won’t be on a snap count against the Lions.
“No, I never play that way, and I never let the coaches allow me to play that way,” he said. “But I think ultimately, it’s being smart, seeing where you’re at, especially with how the drives are going, how long certain drives are, how many plays you play in a quarter and overall in a game. So I think you need to be smart in that regard.”
According to coach Mike McCarthy, Matthews took “the full allotment” of snaps in Thursday’s padded practice and said that it was “not a surprise” that the two-time All-Pro was at this point in his recovery.
Given his first-hand knowledge of hamstring injuries, Matthews knows he’s ready to return.
“I wouldn’t be returning if I had that concern,” Matthews said. “I feel good and hopefully it’s a thing of the past. Hopefully it’s my one for the year.”