Matthews Gets Chance With First-String Defense

Rookie Clay Matthews wasn't making a big deal out of it, but on Monday for the first time he took all his snaps at right outside linebacker with the No. 1 defense ahead of Jeremy Thompson, who had worked with the first unit throughout the spring.

Coming on the third day and the fourth practice of training camp, the move is by no means permanent. But it's a sign that from the get-go Matthews and Thompson will both have their opportunities to win the competition for the starting spot opposite Aaron Kampman, and Monday was Matthews' day to focus on making a strong impression.

"It's Day 3 of camp, it really doesn't mean much," said Matthews, whom the Packers traded up to draft in the first round, at No. 26 overall out of USC. "I know we're going to be switching back and forth. They're just trying to get some new looks here and there, and obviously the best person is going to play.

"It's a little early to say exactly what the coaches are thinking. You never know exactly what they're thinking. But obviously they brought me here for a reason and that's to come in here and contribute. They want to see what I can bring to the table. If I can't get it done, Jeremy will get it done, and vice versa. It's a good competition and it brings the best out of both of us."

Matthews didn't have any particular standout plays during Monday's practice, but he could be seen taking on the full gamut of responsibilities for the position - holding the point against the run, dropping into coverage and rushing the passer.

It's in the one-on-one pass-rushing drills against the offensive linemen where Matthews has been noticed the most. He aggressively attacks the rush lane and has an effective combination of speed and rush moves to beat his man a fair share of the time.

"Who doesn't like rushing the passer?" said Matthews, who had 4½ sacks and nine total tackles for loss in his final year of college ball. "It's real fun. It's something I got to do a lot at 'SC, something I'd like to continue on. I'm going to have to get better because a lot of things don't work here with the better linemen. But I'm working with coach Kevin Greene and looking at the older players and trying to improve my game."

That work with Greene continues an impressive lineage of coaches throughout Matthews' young football career. At Agoura High in Agoura Hills, Calif., his defensive coordinator was his father, Clay Jr., who played linebacker for 19 seasons with the Cleveland Browns (1978-93) and Atlanta Falcons (1994-96).

Then at USC, his position coach was Ken Norton Jr., who starred for 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys (1988-93) and San Francisco 49ers (1994-2000). Now he's with Greene, another former All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the Los Angeles Rams (1985-92), Pittsburgh Steelers (1993-95), Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and San Francisco 49ers (1997), who has more sacks than any other linebacker in league history.

On the field, Greene is intense and talking up all his pupils at outside linebacker, not just Matthews. He doesn't let anyone take a play off, and he expects maximum effort on every live snap as well as in every drill.

"I just think that is Kevin Greene's coaching style," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Everybody has a style that fits their personality, but their job description is to teach and demand, and that is the way Kevin goes about it."

However he goes about it, it seems to work for Matthews, who said his first-year coach's love of the game definitely comes through.

"He's just trying to make us the best player we are," Matthews said. "The good thing about him is he's not a coach who's going to cuss you out, he's not going to degrade you, he's going to talk to you like a man and tell you what you need to improve on. He'll be tough on you at times but at the same time he'll pat you on the back when you do the right thing."

{sportsad300}Matthews' apparent progress hasn't come without a hefty dose of dedication, however. He said he's hardly called home since training camp began because as soon as he's back at the St. Norbert dormitory every night, he's in his playbook studying for the next day.

Whether he spends more days with the first-team or second-team defense the rest of training camp remains to be seen, but no matter the practice schedule or potential rotation with Thompson, he's not going to change his approach.

He admitted to having lofty goals, not just to start and contribute to Green Bay's new 3-4 defense as a rookie, but to make a name for himself in the NFL. He's certainly been taught by plenty who have done so, by learning various defensive schemes inside and out.

Matthews is trying to learn his first one as a pro, and he's off to a good start.

"You hear a lot of guys jump into the framework of a defense with other teams right away, but with this it's very complicated," Matthews said. "You have to make sure you know what you're doing and stay on top of it. That's what I'm trying to do."

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