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Point of Veau: Clay Matthews Still to Prove He Can Fill Leadership Void

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Point of Veau: Clay Matthews Still to Prove He Can Fill Leadership Void

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

In just a matter of weeks since the end of the 2012 season, the Green Bay Packers began to overhaul their roster. Gone are Charles Woodson, Donald Driver and Jeff Saturday.

These were moves that parted ways once-elite players past their prime. Transactions such as these also ensured the Packers will be one of the NFL's youngest teams in 2013, one that's potentially quicker, faster and stronger than the 2012 edition that was eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

To gain youth, however, came with a cost. The Packers already lost a trio of players that were among the most-respected and highly-regarded athletes in professional football, and Greg Jennings may be the next to leave town.

General manager Ted Thompson, the architect of the roster, acknowledged at the NFL Combine there's a void on the team that's more reality than perception:  "That is a lot of veteran leadership that won’t be with us, so you’re always a little bit concerned about that."

Thompson would also add that he's confident in the leadership in the Packers locker room, and he probably has every right to hold such a conviction with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Rodgers has taken on that responsibility ever since becoming a starter back in 2008. Of course, that's only logical at the omni-important quarterback position.

But that's on the offensive side of the football. There's still apprehension about who's going to fill the leadership vacuum on the defense.

Minus Woodson, there's something missing from the Packers D: a confidence, an attitude, a professionalism. This is the guy whose "one mind, one goal, one purpose, one heart" speech is indelibly etched on the inside of the Packers' 2010 Super Bowl rings.

The logical replacement for Woodson as a leader is linebacker Clay Matthews, a four-time Pro Bowler in his first four seasons in the NFL. At 26 years old, he's poised to become one of the highest-paid defenders in the entire league when he receives his inevitable contract extension in the very near future.

But for as good of football player Matthews is, there's still uncertainty about his ability to lead.

Despite being a first round draft choice, the role of leader was one foreign to Matthews during his college days at USC where he exited as a senior back in 2008.

"I would not say Clay was one of the outspoken leaders of that team, even as a senior, because he was always kind of in that underdog role," said Michael Lev of the Orange County Register in an interview with Cheesehead TV. "Even as a senior, he wasn't a full-time starter right off the bat. That team, if you remember, had Rey Maualuga on it, had Brian Cushing on it. Those were kind of the big, elder statesmen of the defense, and Clay was just kind of finding his way."

Lev was a USC beat reporter from 2008 to 2012 that saw and covered Matthews up close. He observed a player that blossomed during his final year in college to help the Trojans become Pac-10 and Rose Bowl champions, but not one that was viewed as field general.

"I don't think he was perceived then the way he is now," said Lev, "which isn't to say he can't become that sort of guy."

On the surface, Matthews would appear to have the characteristics necessary to guide and steer others.

He has the high profile elevated by national advertising campaigns like Suave, Gillette and Fathead, a quality that means little in the physical  part of the game but one that might not hurt in the mind of his teammates, particularly those just coming into the league that will look up to him.

The level of effort is also present with a motor that runs nonstop, the type that never gives up, never quits. And he has the production to match.

There's little doubt Matthews is a leader by example, but the question remains, can he be a vocal leader?

"I definitely think so," said Lev. "Just look at his family. You can't have better stock than his dad and his uncle, and what they did in the NFL. They played for a combined almost 40 years, one Hall of Famer and another one who probably should be a Hall of Famer. "

"Clay's been around the game for a long time. He's just kind of a late bloomer, but now that he's getting into his mid to late 20s, I think he could definitely could slide into that role."

It's perhaps notable that when asked last weekend about players who need to step into leadership roles, Mike McCarthy failed to mention Matthews among seven players he rattled off in addition to Rodgers.

"Whether it’s a young guy like Morgan Burnett to continue to grow," said McCarthy, "B.J. Raji is definitely a guy, T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga when he’s healthy, we have a bunch of guys.

"Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb really took a big step in a leadership role as a young player last year, so he’s definitely an example I’d use as a young man in his second year. You don’t have to wait until your fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth year, to be classified as a leader. Leadership is from the top to bottom, and we need to do a better job of that as a football team."

It's possible McCarthy just made an honest mistake in omitting Matthews' name. Maybe it's just assumed he's among the leaders of the Packers. After all, Matthews was named a postseason captain for the first time of his career in 2012, an honor bestowed by his teammates.

What can't be assumed is improvement from the Packers defense in 2013. They need to make significant progress if Green Bay is to return to Super Bowl level.

A dynamic mentor would help in that regard. Whether Matthews is that person has yet to be revealed.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (13) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Pack Morris's picture

"The time is now for many leaders."

Stroh's picture

I have no doubt whatsoever about Matthews being able to be a team leader. The fact that he was an underdog will only resonate louder w/ the guys he needs to lead. The young players working there way up the depth chart, just as Matthews had to do his entire life until he got to the NFL. Matthews is a leader thru and thru.

"These were moves that parted ways once-elite players past their prime."

This is the case and has been w/ the Packers and most elite NFL teams. Players and leaders get old and new players step in to fill the void. Rodgers, Sitton, Nelson, Cobb are leaders on offense. Pickett, Hawk, Bishop, Burnett and Matthews are leaders on Defense.

I have little doubt that the Packers have enough leadership on the team.

cow42's picture

you just love very inch of this team, don't you?

do you see any flaws?

seriously - do you have any reservations about this team at all, or is it just straight-up love for every player, every coach, every decision?

you can't possibly look at this team and ONLY see positives... you've gotta see SOME warts.

Stroh's picture

Flaws, yeah theres a few, like there are on any team. They need a faster playmaking ILB, a better more physical Safety w/ ball skills, a true 34 DE that plays w/ physicality, a RB that can play every down. Another pass rushing OLB might be another. Those are the 5 biggest areas of need that I see.

I would love to draft Ogletree to address the first, tho I hope Manning can be that. McMillan might be the Safety we need, but he struggles in coverage and lacks ball skills, so its hard to say if he will be or not. Thompson has a couple choices in mind for the DE in Canty and maybe Jolly. So there are options at least. The pass rusher we all hope is Perry and I think he will but it remains to be seen. RB is a minor area where you can use a couple guys in rotation and I wouldnt mind getting Michael, or to a lesser extent Ball, in the draft.

I doubt the Packers draft Ogletree due his off-field issues, but Manning is a faster version of Bishop, and Jones remains a possibility. I don't like many DT in this draft as options in a 34D, especially not in the 1st. Signing Canty is a great option, Jolly is a candidate, otherwise I would look to the mid rounds of the draft for a 34DE.

Again it comes down to how much you believe in the Packers draft and develop model. Thats worked to get us one SB, and I think the Packers are in the top 5 teams in the NFL and have as good a chance of winning a SB as any of the others.

Stroh's picture

Oh and better pass protection from the LT, but there are as many as 3 possible OT on the roster already that may step up or into the LT spot.

Doug In Sandpoint's picture

Cow man, this is getting really old. Loving a team and seeing flaws are not mutually exclusive. I love players who overachieve but may not have the skill level of others. In today's NFL you are bound to have weak spots and flaws...the system is designed that way. The only way to get ahead is to consistantly get more out of your players than you pay for them at every position. TT has decided to take a core of superstars that you have to pay market for and surround them with players who perform above their paygrade. Guys like Bishop, Moses, Heyward, Shields, Lang, Benson Starks, Green, Newhouse and DuJuan Harris fit this role. We just cannot have pro bowlers in every position. When they don't overachieve they are gone.

For thee most part TT finds players and signs them at rates below what they should make for thier perfomance. Those that don't overachieve (Hawk) are overpaid and hurt the overall equation. Consistanly getting more with less from your non superstar players is the key to being consistantly good.

Your beloved 49ers (who didn't win the Superbowl by the way and haven't since 1994) are in the middle of a boom bust boom swings that happen when you follow a different path. They were amongst the worst in the league just a few years ago and stockpiled draft choices that turned them from sucky to excellent. This will flip again as they lose their "superstars".

I like the way we do things and I like our players..otherwise we are only cheering for laundry as the uniforms stay while the people inside change.

Point Packer's picture

"Cow man, this is getting really old."

+ 1,000,000,000

ChiTownPacker's picture

I would love to meet Cow in real life.

Me thinks he carries his optimism, and positive outlook, in all facets of life.

Packers Daily's picture

Matthews needs to lead that defense

ChiTownPacker's picture

I can also see Cow as a Doomsday Prepper. Since every day, the sky is falling

dawg's picture

I think CM3 can do it, he took Perry under his wing so to speak last yr.
More importantly, Perry needs to step up to the plate this yr!
Perry seemed a little out of position?

Evan's picture

"Perry seemed a little out of position?"

Yeah, because he was. He was still very much learning OLB when he got hurt. I'm crossing my fingers for him this season.

Stroh's picture

Perry needs to learn some other pass rush moves. He was so bad in coverage that after the 1st game Capers rarely had him in coverage again. He has great potential as a pass rusher, but he has a long ways to go in his development. Probaby going to take him into his 3rd season. Pitts always used to give OLB 3 seasons to become starting OLB. Its a very difficult transition and its no given for any player to make successfully.

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