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Notebook: Matthews Coming On Strong

Rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ NFL career might not have started the way he wanted to after being sidelined for much of the preseason with a hamstring injury, but his production has been unquestioned since he entered the starting lineup. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 9 | Matthews Named NFC Defensive POTW

Rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews' NFL career might not have started the way he wanted to after being sidelined for much of the preseason with a hamstring injury, but his production has been unquestioned since he entered the starting lineup.

Matthews is coming off one of his finest performances this season on Monday night against the Ravens, one that earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Award. He is the first defensive rookie in the NFC to win the honor this season.

Matthews registered a career-high six tackles, matched his career best with two sacks, and added a forced fumble in the first quarter that safety Nick Collins recovered inside the Green Bay 20 to halt a potential Baltimore score.

"These types of awards come obviously when you are winning and an overall team effort, so it's not just me out there obviously making plays and what not," Matthews said. "It's a whole team effort. But it's definitely gratifying seeing that your hard work is paying off and people are rewarding you with such accolades.

"Like I said, it's an overall team game. If we weren't winning, we wouldn't be getting these awards."

There may be some truth to that, but it would be hard to ignore what the first-round pick out of Southern California has done since moving into a starting role on the right side in Week 4 at Minnesota. Matthews wasted no time making the most of that opportunity, stripping the ball out of Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson's hands and returning it 42 yards for a score, the longest fumble recovery for a touchdown by a Packers rookie in franchise history.

Matthews followed that up the next game with a two-sack performance vs. Detroit, and has posted six sacks in the nine contests he has started. His team-high seven sacks on the season are tied for the NFL lead among rookies along with Washington's Brian Orakpo.

"He's playing well," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "You can't argue with the athletic ability, the versatility he gives you at that position. That's what you're looking for. The ability to put his hand down and rush the passer. Also to play all the different combinations, the pressure packages and the cover packages.

"I think he's off to an excellent start. When you have a rookie win the defensive player of the week, I think that speaks for itself. We're excited about his start."

Since sacks became an official league statistic in 1982, only one Packers rookie, Tim Harris in 1986 with eight sacks, has led the team in that category. Harris and Vonnie Holliday (1998) hold the franchise rookie record with the eight sacks.

Matthews missed the first three preseason games due to a hamstring injury he originally sustained during USC's Pro Day, and said the biggest challenge for him thus far has been learning a new playbook and defensive system.

"It hasn't been too smooth, but with my family background (father, grandfather and uncle all played in the NFL) and just the program that I went to and just my mindset, I felt that it was going to be not an easy transition, but yeah, a smooth transition coming in here because I expected it to be rough or football to be 24/7," Matthews said. "I expected the rigors of this business, so if you come in here with that right mindset and you are willing to learn and put it all together, I think good things will happen."

They have so far, and McCarthy points to the rookie's approach to the game as a contributing factor for his success.

"The biggest part I'm excited about too is his professionalism," McCarthy said. "I like the way he comes to work. He's the same guy every day. Your rookie year there's always an adjustment that you go through. Do they fit into the locker room? Is he accepted in the locker room?

"Every rookie goes through it. And he's made a pretty seamless transition here to our program. I appreciate that, I'm excited about that, because I think he's going to have great days ahead of him."

Hurting up front

The Packers' starting defensive line has been relatively healthy this season, but all three starters and the top backup are battling injuries this week.

McCarthy said the team will likely have to take the full week before determining the status of starting defensive ends Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins, starting nose tackle Ryan Pickett, and backup nose tackle B.J. Raji for Sunday's game at Chicago.

Pickett, who sustained a hamstring injury during Green Bay's win over Baltimore on Monday night, was the only one of the four that did not participate in Wednesday's practice. He has played in all 16 games in six of the last seven seasons and has been sidelined for only two games in his eight-plus seasons due to injury, missing two contests in 2007 with a groin injury.

Jenkins (hamstring) and Jolly (knee) were both limited, and the top backup at nose tackle and both end spots, Raji, was also limited due to an ankle injury.

With the players not knowing how much practice time they will get this week, Jenkins said making the most of their "mental reps" this week will be critical.

"We've got to take advantage of the meeting times as much as possible," Jenkins said. "I was able to go out there and go through the walk-through today and stuff like that. As much as you can do to try to simulate it the best you can when you are not practicing."

Staying in

McCarthy said the team will practice inside The Don Hutson Center this week, but that it is due more to the high winds than the snowstorm that hit the Green Bay area on Tuesday night into Wednesday.

A portion of Ray Nitschke Field is heated, so the team will have the option to practice outdoors the remainder of the season. In recent weeks when the Packers have worked outside, they have completed the jog-through and individual drills since The Don Hutson Center offers some more room. McCarthy said with the way their Friday practices are structured, the team will work inside on Fridays the rest of the season.

{sportsad300}"The ability to have 65 yards now is available to us," McCarthy said. "That's the portion of the field that is heated, and that's why frankly last week the other part of the field froze. I think it was the day we came back off of the bye week, the field was not frozen so we were able to use the whole field. But the second day back we were able to just use the 65 yards.

"So that's why we're just mainly doing team drills out there, because you can't use the other individual areas to do one-on-ones and the other individual drills. And that's really the mindset is to do the team drills out there because then we're always on that part of the field."

McCarthy said a few players had to catch rides from members of the team's support staff because they couldn't get out of their driveways, but he himself had no problem getting to Lambeau Field after plowing his driveway on Wednesday morning.

"Yep, got up about 4 a.m.," McCarthy said. "I was so excited I got up at about 2 a.m., but waited until 4 a.m. The equipment makes a lot of noise. I probably don't have happy neighbors, but yeah, I got the driveway cleared and was at work at about 5:45 a.m."

Injury/participation update

Linebacker Jeremy Thompson (neck) is out for Sunday. Pickett and linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) did not participate on Wednesday.

Barnett sustained a knee "strain" during Monday night's game, but McCarthy was optimistic about his chances for Sunday.

"I think he is going to be OK by the end of the week," McCarthy said. "He'll have a chance to practice tomorrow, but I anticipate he'll probably go by Friday. He just has some swelling in there and we're being smart with him."

Jenkins, Jolly, Raji, tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) and tight end Jermichael Finley (knee) were limited participants in practice.

For Chicago, wide receiver/punt returner Devin Hester (calf) and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (groin) did not participate on Wednesday. Linebacker Lance Briggs (knee), defensive tackles Tommie Harris (knee) and Israel Idonije (knee), and tackle Orlando Pace (groin) were limited participants.

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