Training Camp Report: Matthews Confident In Return

If there is a positive to take out of linebacker Clay Matthews being sidelined for at least two weeks with a hamstring injury, it is that he has experienced dealing with the problem before and that the Packers’ regular-season opener at Philadelphia is still more than a month away.

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Matthews sustained the injury to his left hamstring on Saturday during the team's annual Family Night scrimmage. It occurred when he was fighting off a block from a fullback, and Matthews said he didn't feel that he opened up wrong or decelerated, instead calling the injury "just one of those freak things."

Unfortunately it is a familiar injury for Matthews, dating back originally to his Pro Day at USC in late March 2009. He then re-aggravated the hamstring early on in OTAs last May as a rookie, and again in a training camp practice on Aug. 6, which forced him to miss the first three preseason games.

"Obviously I went through this last year, so I know what to expect, being a little more familiar with the defense and having kind of a overall knowledge, I think that helps out with the situation that I am in right now," Matthews said. "I just have to rehab it and get back here as soon as possible."

Expecting to compete with veteran Brady Poppinga for the starting right outside linebacker spot last year as a rookie, Matthews' missed time due to the injury forced him to ease into the starting lineup. He came off the bench for the first three contests, started for the first time in Week 4 at Minnesota as the team opened in nickel, and then opened up for the first time in the base defense in Week 6 against Detroit. He then remained a starter for the rest of the season.

Despite the missed action during camp, which at the time seemed like a greater setback for a rookie already making adjustments to the pro game, Matthews went on to post one of the finer seasons by a Packers rookie on the defensive side of the ball. He led the team with 10 sacks, a franchise record by a rookie, and was named to the Pro Bowl, becoming the first Green Bay rookie since wide receiver James Lofton in 1978 to earn that accolade.

"That's what makes it a little easier this time around as far as keeping my emotions up so to speak," Matthews said. "Obviously last year being a new guy here and having a lot of expectations, it was tough coming in here, especially because I wanted to earn the job.

"This year knowing the defense and having such a greater knowledge of not only the defensive players around me and where they are supposed to fit and what not, I feel like this isn't going to set me back too much. Obviously I've got to get back as soon as possible, but for the most part just stay mentally focused and when it is my time to come back, I'll be ready."

Matthews said the best thing for the injury will be rest and treatment, which will include icing, stim and heat for the hamstring, before he resumes light workouts in the pool and then starts running. While he was anxious to get back out on the field and justify the expectations that being a first-round pick carried, Matthews said he won't rush his return like he did last summer.

"Last year I tried to push it a little bit and that kind of set me back," Matthews said. "This year we are going to be smart, especially with four or five weeks until the season starts. There is no doubt I'll be ready. Like I said, it's frustrating but you've just got to keep your emotions up and stay in tune."

The third preseason contest, which comes against Indianapolis on Aug. 26 at Lambeau Field, is when starters typically see the most playing time, but Matthews declined to pinpoint that as his target date for returning to action.

"I felt ready to go for the third preseason (game in 2009) and they held me out," Matthews said. "I went the fourth and felt great. As you can see from the season, I felt great. I would assume that is kind of the timetable we are looking at, but I can't say for sure.

"I know that I'll do anything within my power to get back. If that is the third game, fourth game, or the start of the regular season, I'll be ready."

With Matthews sidelined and Poppinga still out with a concussion, second-year man Brad Jones and veteran Brandon Chillar are expected to work with the first defense in the short term. Chillar began to work at right outside linebacker for the first time last week, with Matthews lining up on the left for the first time after lining up exclusively on the right side as a rookie.

Even though every missed rep is valuable for a young player, Matthews doesn't look at the missed time in the new spot as a great setback.

"Not really because the defense is really the same in regards to the outside linebacker if I am switching sides," Matthews said. "If anything, it hinders me more from a personal standpoint, getting better with my pass rush and reading the development of routes and what not. But for the most part, I felt coming into that scrimmage I was playing some of my best ball, so I know that it is not going to take me more than a week to get back up to speed as far as physically.

"Obviously you never want this to happen, but like I said, if you can take anything away from last year, it's not the end of the world. I'll be back and look to play better than ever."

Injury/participation updateWith the Packers practicing in hot, humid weather on Monday afternoon, Head Coach Mike McCarthy cut the practice short by about 20 minutes, but it wasn't due to the conditions.

In addition to Matthews and Poppinga, 12 other Packers sat out Monday afternoon's session due to injury, giving the team just 66 healthy players for practice. The 14 absentees was the most in a single day during this year's training camp so far.

New to the injury list on Monday were cornerback Josh Bell (foot), linebacker Alex Joseph (quad), wide receiver Donald Driver (calf) and tight end Andrew Quarless (hamstring).

"Donald has something on his calf that they're looking at," McCarthy said. "We don't know if it's part of the post-surgery process of coming back. So we're just being smart with him."

Wide receiver Brett Swain, coming back from an ACL injury sustained last season, was rolled into from behind when he was blocking on a kickoff return Saturday night, but McCarthy said he was fine.

For Barnett and Blackmon, two players also coming off of knee injuries, McCarthy said it was also a matter of just being smart with them. McCarthy said he was hopeful Blackmon could practice on Tuesday.

Continuing to sit out were linebacker Frank Zombo (ankle) and defensive end Ronald Talley (knee). The three players on the physically unable to perform list, safety Atari Bigby (ankle), cornerback Al Harris (knee), and running back James Starks (hamstring), remained sidelined.

Bigby underwent surgery on Friday in North Carolina, and McCarthy said the report from the doctor was positive. McCarthy estimated his rehabilitation time would be about a month.

Aug. 9 - Additional coverage:

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