Matthews on Packers’ new training: ‘If scientists say it works, I’ll buy into it’

Advances in sports science should help prevent injuries such as hamstring ailments, which have afflicted Clay Matthews on multiple occasions. Thus, the Green Bay star is intrigued by the Packers' new, cutting-edge training methods.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Green Bay Packers began instituting new methods of training this year, Clay Matthews wanted to know more. From a change in the team’s weekly practice schedule to GPS monitoring of players to the testing of hydration levels, it piqued the interest of the star outside linebacker.

Matthews read all of the available research and liked what he discovered.

"If the scientists say it works, I’ll buy into it and believe it," Matthews said.

Matthews wasn’t a science major at USC (he graduated with a degree in international relations), but he knows that a lot of what the Packers are trying is because of players with an injury history like he has. Advances in sports science wouldn’t have stopped Matthews from breaking his same thumb twice last season, but it should help prevent hamstring injuries — something that has cost him several games in his five-year career.

"Seeing this change, I’m able to buy into it, and I think the other players are too, just because of the science behind it," Matthews said. "You can’t refute numbers, and I think it’s shown that this is the right way to do it or the best option right now."

Among the most noticeable changes in Green Bay for the 2014 season are the ways that head coach Mike McCarthy has structured the team’s scheduling. In training camp, rather than concluding practices with the most intense team drills, those happen midway through and are followed by periods that serve partially as a cool-down. Also, whereas in previous years McCarthy would have players off their feet for 48 hours before a game, the Packers are now practicing the day before a game.

"(In other years) when you finish Friday, which is a light practice (on a normal Sunday-game week), sitting around until gameday, all of a sudden it’s the first quarter," Matthews said. "Here we are now, getting it going on Saturday, it’s a fast, crisp practice, the next thing you know (the game is) the following day. So it doesn’t feel like there’s a lull. It doesn’t feel like there’s a wait until the game. You just kind of roll right into it."

Matthews comes from a football family. His father and uncle both played 19 years in the NFL and his grandfather played four years in the league in the 1950s. To say that attention to training has changed in recent decades would be a drastic understatement.

"There was a point where you smoked cigarettes and ate hot dogs at halftime," Matthews said. "Now we have specifically designed drinks for us and stuff that gets you up and going."

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Matthews smiled when adding, "not to say that stuff didn’t work, but . . ."

He was obviously joking.

Last year, the Packers began having regeneration periods (or "TV timeouts") during practice. The idea was to simulate the game environment of playing hard for several minutes, then resting. This year, the team added to that by serving light foods to players on the field that help with energy. The team even hired Adam Korzun to be their director of performance nutrion — a newly created position.

When practice is over, Green Bay’s training staff is now checking to make sure that each player left the field well hydrated.

"Pee in a cup? Yeah," Matthews said. "We’re checking hydration levels. I think we’re taking every step to ensure that the athlete is ready to go on game day, and that’s hydration levels, that’s as far as practice schedule. Sleep, I don’t know you monitor that as far as making sure people are getting their sleep, but that’s just as important. But I think we’re just trying to let people know how hydrated they are, how much sleep they need to be getting.

"I think it’s just the natural progression of the league."

Matthews’ younger brother Casey has been coached for many years by the man who’s mostly responsible for the NFL beginning this trend: Chip Kelly. Casey Matthews played for Kelly at Oregon and is now with him as part of the Philadelphia Eagles.

When Clay asks Casey how he’s doing, he usually only gets "good" in response and nothing further. When together, the two brothers will lift weights, play video games and sometimes go to the movie theater, but they’re not talking about their coach’s training styles. However, Clay does know a bit about what Casey is going through on a daily basis.

"As far as what they do over in Philly, I heard that they use a race car sometimes and they practice fast; that’s about the extent of which I know about their program," Matthews said.

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Regardless of where it started, this is a trend that’s unlikely to go away and is one that should only continue to evolve.

"Anything we feel we can do better and do our due diligence … you never want to just do something because someone else did it," McCarthy said. "(But) if they’re doing something (better) than what we’re doing, then we’re going to do it."

Matthews said — in a partially sarcastic way — that he’s crossing his fingers that one day players "don’t have to practice at all and we can just show up on game days." That won’t happen, of course. But after not being named to the Pro Bowl last year for the first time in his career and in search of his third selection as an All-Pro, Matthews has gone all-in with the science behind football.

"It just works, man," Matthews said. "Just put that: percentages, it just works."

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