Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews against the New Orleans Saints.
Derick E. Hingle/Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has said this offseason that he feels good about moving back to the outside.
That’s not to say he’s done lining up inside.
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Matthews indicated this past week that he could still shift around, as he did early in his Green Bay career. Head coach Mike McCarthy said as much as well, noting that the Packers might want Matthews inside for matchup purposes.
"That’s still all on the table," McCarthy told reporters. "The experience of having Clay in there and what’s come out of it, we don’t want to throw that all away."
Matthews was the first player in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first four NFL seasons, all of which came as an outside linebacker. The Packers moved him to inside linebacker in November 2014 in an effort to bolster their run defense, which ranked last in the NFL at the time.
The move brought immediate success, as Matthews made 11 tackles and a sack in his first game at the position, a 55-14 Packers win over Chicago. Matthews played the final six games of 2014 at inside linebacker and returned there to start the 2015 season. He played inside the entire season after an injury forced his inside counterpart, Sam Barrington, to miss the final 15 games of the year.
Matthews was selected for his sixth Pro Bowl in 2015, despite playing a new position and registering just 6 1/2 sacks, the second-lowest total of his career. However, he said the plan since the end of the season has been to return to outside linebacker, the position at which he feels most comfortable.
"I’ve always tried to be a team player. I think I kind of exemplified that in making the switch," he said. "At the end of the day, (the coaches) see my most natural and most impactful position as a pass rusher."
Matthews said he didn’t do anything different in his training this offseason, adding that he already felt very comfortable on the outside. McCarthy said Matthews has looked good there in organized team activities, adding that he doesn’t even view the move as a transition.
Matthews joins a deep outside linebacking corps that includes nine-time Pro Bowl player Julius Peppers, 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott, rookie Kyler Fackrell and free-agent signee Lerentee McCray. In addition, McCarthy has indicated that 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones will continue to see more snaps as a stand-up pass rusher.
"We think he’s a physical guy who can set the edge in the run game and win the physical battle on people and yet can give us a good physical rusher off the edge," defensive coordinator Dom Capers told Packers.com in regards to Jones. "I don’t think you can have enough of those guys."
On the inside, the Packers have Barrington, Jake Ryan, Carl Bradford, Joe Thomas and fourth-round draft pick Blake Martinez, though none of them has a full year of starting experience.
While Matthews appears committed to the switch, Packers coaches have stressed that plans could change. Both Capers and associate head coach/linebackers coordinator Winston Moss said as much in interviews last month, with Moss saying things will "sort out" once the season starts.
Matthews, for what it’s worth, appears prepared for either scenario.
"The first, what, 5 1/2 years I had here as I guess a true outside linebacker, I was still moved around," he said. "I don’t anticipate that changing at all."