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As Training Camp Approaches, Focus Will Be on Clay Matthews' Hamstrings, Not His Contract

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As Training Camp Approaches, Focus Will Be on Clay Matthews' Hamstrings, Not His Contract

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Photo by Corey Behnke of CheeseheadTV.com.

The contract is in the rearview mirror for Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

During the offseason, he received a five-year extension worth $66 million. There's no reason for distraction. Matthews is now the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.

When training camp opens and the Packers practice for the first time on Friday July 26, Matthews can instead direct his attention on getting prepared for the season at hand––and staying healthy.

For four seasons, Matthews' hamstrings have been an ongoing issue.

During his rookie season, it took 19 days for the first round draft choice to recover from a pulled hamstring during training camp, which forced him to miss the first three preseason games, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The same issue arose during training camp in 2010, that time taking 24 days to return to action, not playing in a single exhibition game. Matthews also missed one regular season game in 2010, a Week 6 matchup with the Miami Dolphins after aggravating the injury a week prior versus the Washington Redskins.

For a while, it appeared the issue may have abated. Later during the 2010 season, Matthews suffered from a shin injury that prevented him from fully participating in practice and later revealed to be a stress fracture. But at least the hamstring problems had subsided.

During the 2011 season, Matthews remained largely injury-free, which was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately for the four-time Pro Bowler, Matthews' clean bill of health only lasted until November of last season when he pulled his left hamstring and missed four games at midseason.

The silver lining for both Matthews and the Packers is that he's been able to play at a high level despite lingering concerns about his hamstrings, and the Packers have been able to stay afloat even when Matthews has been out of the lineup.

Whether Matthews' injury is evolving remains to be seen. In his first two seasons in the NFL, his hamstring pulls occurred in training camp, after a summer away from team facilities. Last year, however, the issue didn't crop up until November, maybe a sign of late-season fatigue.

There's little doubt that Matthews is an athletic demon. He has quick-twitch muscle movements that allow him to react faster than many of his opponents, along with a combination of size and speed superior to most other football players.

Perhaps a byproduct of Matthews' physicality is that he's too tightly wound, too muscle-bound for his own good, which makes him prone to pulls and strains. But then we come back to the fact that apart from 2012's four-game absence, Matthews has not missed any lengthy period of time during the regular season––when the games count.

Still, Matthews has missed time on four separate occasions due to hamstring pulls, which will no doubt put the Packers on alert and wary of anything that may trigger another setback.

Matthews had 13 sacks last season despite missing those four games, only half a sack off his single-season high of 13.5 set in 2010.

Entering his fifth season in the NFL, there's reason to believe Matthews is entering his prime. Combined with a star quarterback at the peak of his career, the window of opportunity available to the Packers in 2013 appears to be wide open.

It will be up to Matthews to combat the notion that athletes who receive large signing bonuses and the security of a long-term extension become complacent.

In the case of Matthews, such complacency could leave him vulnerable to injury. Yet there's no evidence that he will fall prey to the pitfalls of contentment.

Matthews will be counted upon to act as a leader at a position filled with inexperience. The Packers are seeking more production from the bookend linebacker, expected to 2012 first round draft choice Nick Perry, a fellow USC alum.

Beyond Perry, the outside linebackers include second-year player Dezman Moses, sixth round draft choice Nate Palmer, and undrafted rookies Andy Mulumba, Donte Savage and Jarvis Reed.

Gone this season are marginal performers Erik Walden and Frank Zombo, both of whom left as free agents. So is safety Charles Woodson who has been the heart and the soul of the Packers defense for the past several years.

That role will be left to Matthews. He'll have to lead a defense that will need to improve upon last year's ranking of 11th in overall defense, 17th in rushing defense and 26th in yards allowed per rush.

Such a task will be much easier if he's healthy.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (10) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Tommy G's picture

Brian,

Thank you for getting us back to what is important. The contract talk is now a thing of the past. In order for our defense to take a step forward we are going to need CM. We need him to be not just a force on the field but a leader out there as well. I believe we have the offense to win number 5. I'm not yet convinced that our defense can get us there.

PackersRS's picture

Caepernick did an interview recently where he talked about the Packers' D players arguing amongst themselves during the Divisional game.

That cannot happen at any point. And it's up to Matthews to insure that it doesn't.

al's picture

defence will be better YOU CAN WRIGHT THIS DOWN TOO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PackersRS's picture

defense. defense. defense. defense. defense.

write. write. write. write. write. write.

The sooner you stop making crass english mistakes, the sooner everybody will take what you say seriously.

This is not an attack, don't take it personally.

al's picture

others will have to step up clay cant do it him self I do think they will be better baring injurys !!!!!!!!!!!!

fish/Crane's picture

Matthews 53
Bears 00

GBPDAN's picture

They should have put a 'hammy-clause' in clays contract

PackersRS's picture

Yeah, that would never happen. He's not a fringe player. He's an All-Pro in his prime.

nick perry's picture

What would be great is if the Packers had a season of injuries like the 49ers did last year. The 49ers lost a total of 16 games to starters last season. In comparison the Packers lost 108. A healthy CMIII is a must. So is a healthy Perry. The only thing that concerns me about Perry is he only played in 6 games last season. He struggled last year but so did Lamar Woodley when he came out and moved to LB his first year. Woodley played D-End in college, just like Perry. If Perry can play fast, without thinking just reacting and Jones is as good as advertised, and the Packers have a little luck on the injury front this year, the Packers will be in New York as the NFC representative in the SB.

PackersRS's picture

Putting all the chips on Perry is not smart. He's a 2nd year player making a transition, like you said, and that missed most of his first year.

I think he'll be better, but don't count on him being an elite player.

It'll be a combined effort with Raji, Perry, maybe Datone, and most importanty Neal, who showed a lot of progress last season (4.5 sacks in 11 games).

To me, the most important contribution Perry can make is being sound in containment. If he can hold the strong side, something that Walden failed miserably, particularly against the 49ers, it'll go a long way towards the Packers winning in december and january.

The Packers' D were 4th in pass rush and 4th in opposite Qb rating. The problem was against the run. They need to win at the LOS.

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