Meeting Challenges Nothing New For Matthews

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews did not take a traditional path to the NFL, going from a 205-pound walk-on at USC to a first-round pick that the Packers moved up 15 spots to select on Saturday with the No. 26 overall choice. - More Packers 2009 Draft Page


Outside linebacker Clay Matthews did not take a traditional path to the NFL, going from a 205-pound walk-on at USC to a first-round pick that the Packers moved up 15 spots to select on Saturday with the No. 26 overall choice.

Trading up in the draft has not been a traditional occurrence either during General Manager Ted Thompson's tenure in Green Bay, but the Packers sent their second-round pick (No. 41) and two third-round selections (Nos. 73 and 83) to the New England Patriots in order to acquire the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Matthews. Along with nose tackle B.J. Raji, it was the first time since 1993 (Wayne Simmons and George Teague) that the Packers selected two players in the first round.

"Having a team move up to draft you really shows they have an interest in you and they want you on their team and they are looking forward to you making an impact," Matthews said. "I'm very much pleased to end up in Green Bay."

Ending up with any team in the NFL was likely not at the forefront of Matthews' mind as a lightly recruited linebacker out of Agoura (Cal.) High School.

"I ended up at USC because plain and simple, I didn't have any offers coming out of high school," Matthews said. "I was undersized as a junior and I didn't even start and my dad was the D-coordinator. That alone speaks volumes about where I have come from. As a senior, I put on some weight and grew a couple of inches, but I was only recruited by (junior colleges) and I-AA schools."

After spending three seasons as primarily a special-teams contributor for the Trojans, Matthews cracked the starting lineup on a talented defense as a senior in 2008, opening up the final 10 games at right end. He earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors as he registered 56 tackles, including nine for loss, and 4.5 sacks, more than doubling his combined statistics from his first three seasons.

"Clay is one of those guys, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga got a lot of the press and there is actually another linebacker there that is a really good player that will be drafted, but the more you watch him the more natural he looks as a player," Thompson said. "He's always on his feet. He has great hips and balance. He can use his hands effectively against offensive linemen and running backs. He can run. He had a great 40 at the combine. He can move in space. He can do the things that anybody looks for in a defensive player.

"And we did study the USC boys quite a bit just because there were a lot of them. Even when you are watching somebody else, all of a sudden you go, 'Was that No. 47 again?' He just makes a lot of plays."

Matthews is a third-generation NFL player, the son of Clay Jr., who played linebacker for 19 seasons with the Cleveland Browns (1978-93) and the Atlanta Falcons (1994-96), and the grandson of Clay Sr., who played defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers in the early 1950s. His uncle, Bruce, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, played 19 seasons (1983-2001) with the Oilers/Titans, where he was a teammate of Thompson when the Packers GM played linebacker for Houston.

That lineage likely didn't hurt his development, but outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene spoke of Matthews' desire to step out of the shadow of his successful NFL family.

"I think everybody knows his genealogy and his bloodlines, but I think just listening to him and hearing him talk, he's on a mission that he wants to stand on his own and be considered a great player in his own right," Greene said.

Matthews will be joining an outside linebacking corps in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defense that could include Aaron Kampman, Jeremy Thompson, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar, Jason Hunter and others.

"I think it shakes out well," Thompson said. "You need a bunch to run this defense. Those guys are invaluable. One of the beautiful things about the 3-4 defense is you can carry more on your 53-man roster, guys that are a little bit bigger and faster and taller than maybe on a regular 4-3 group, so we're looking forward to it.

Greene, who spoke to Matthews on the phone after he was selected Saturday by the Packers, discussed the task that he will be facing as an outside linebacker in Capers' system. Greene should know, having played four seasons himself at that position under Capers in Pittsburgh (1993-94) and Carolina (1996, 98) during his 15-year career.

{sportsad300}"I gave him the three basic job descriptions for an outside backer in the 3-4," Greene said. "He's got to cover like a big strong safety. He has to play the run hard at the point of attack, and he has got to rush the passer like a defensive end weighing about 285 pounds."

In addition to run support and pass-rushing duties, Greene said the coverage responsibilities will likely provide Matthews with his greatest challenge as a rookie.

"His workload is going to be a very large mental and physical workload as far as his zone drops are concerned and his man-to-man coverage responsibility," Greene said. "That's going to require a lot of athleticism and knowing how he fits in the scheme of the defense.

"So he has a large workload. He'll get it. He's a smart kid."

Even with the daunting challenge that awaits him, Matthews said he will go into the '09 season with a goal of cracking the Packers' starting lineup. That journey will start next week when the Packers hold their rookie orientation camp.

"I definitely have confidence in my abilities," Matthews said. "Right now I need to start learning the playbook and get in there and start working out and letting them know I am here to stay and that I am here to win the starting position."

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