When the Green Bay Packers didn’t select a middle linebacker until the third day of the recent NFL Draft, reporters buzzed GM Ted Thompson with questions about the lack of urgency at linebacker.
After the second night of the draft, Thompson assured reporters that the Packers would be just fine at inside linebacker and felt they had current options on their roster.
Many of us assumed the Packers would do what they could to address the position in the draft. It was assumed the Packers would do everything they could to make sure Clay Matthews returned to his true position at outside linebacker.
Looking back, after the dust settled, it was pretty apparent the Packers planned all along to continue to incorporate Matthews at both inside and outside linebacker positions, just like they did last season. When they made that change, the Packers defense improved and Matthews became a difference maker at both positions.
After the draft, Mike McCarthy said, “Clay’s going to both meetings. You know, I was in the inside linebackers meeting on Friday with Clay…he’s getting ready to play wherever he needs to play. But the most important thing is creating opportunities for your big time players to make plays and that’s what we’ll do with Clay.”
The Packers opened OTA workouts this week, with Thursday’s workout open to the public and the media. It was apparent that the Packers plan to move Matthews around again this season.
Matthews and Sam Barrington lined up as the first-team inside linebackers during Thursday’s open OTA practice. Carl Bradford and rookie Jake Ryan lined up behind them.
The Packers defense made drastic improvements in the second half of the season, once the move was made. Without Matthews at ILB, the Packers were giving up more than 153 yards a game on the ground. With Matthews in the middle on early downs, the Packers defense saw that per game average dip to just over 86 yards a game.
With Matthews remaining inside on early downs, it will allow the Packers to get Mike Neal and Nick Perry on the field, opposite Julius Peppers.
When last season started, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones lined up on the inside. That combination is gone. Now it’s Matthews and Sam Barrington and its turned into quite an upgrade.
Matthews will still serve as a primary pass rusher for the Packers. He has 69 1/2 career sacks and doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
What makes Matthews even more dangerous now is the number of different gaps he can shoot through while playing both on the inside and outside. He becomes less predictable and harder to prepare for, which is what the Packers opponents saw last season.