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Cory's Corner: Can Clay Matthews lead a defense?

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Cory's Corner: Can Clay Matthews lead a defense?

The goal is for NFL players to enter training camp as close to 100 percent as possible.

If that is in fact the goal, then what is going on with Clay Matthews?

He has yet to practice because of a sore knee. Usually a sore anything meant you could only go 75 percent, but not that you would miss a week of practice.

And then the Packers declared that Matthews would be eligible for a ‘trial return.’ I’m not sure what that means. If he’s hurt, he’s going to remain hurt. And even if he’s healthy, just how healthy is he?

The Packers are going to have to make a decision on this. Remember that Matthews isn’t just playing the pin-your-ears-back outside linebacker position anymore. He’s now the leader of the defense. He’s the guy that the Packers’ defense is going to look to for guidance and motivation.

How much guidance and motivation can someone give when they can’t even practice? (And yes, I can hear you spout the Allen Iverson classic practice diatribe.)

This is supposed to be Matthews’ big coming out party. Not of Matthews as the player — even though I will argue that we’ve seen the best from the 29-year-old. Matthews is a five-time Pro Bowler and his energy alone accounted for over half of his 11 sacks last year.

No, this is when Matthews was supposed to prove that he can lead and be respected. A.J. Hawk was an excellent leader. He understood the game backwards and knew where everyone had to be. Does Matthews have the same fire to spend countless hours watching video of a running back just to see what plant leg he spins on and what plant leg he cuts back on? Those little things seem minute and inconsequential, but those are the little things that stop drives, put the ball back in Aaron Rodgers’ hands and most importantly win games.

Matthews has plenty of Brett Favre in him. He freelances more often than not and sometimes he gets burned. Sometimes those gambles pay off, but does he continue to take those same chances when rookies and inexperienced players are counting on him to set a good example?

But the biggest question I have about Matthews is the time spent on the field. Last season was the first one that he started all 16 regular season games in his six-year career. He’s been nicked up the entire time he’s been in the NFL. Heck, he didn’t play in crunch time in last year’s NFC Championship Game.

And if Matthews misses a bunch of time this year, Sam Barrington and rookie Jake Ryan won’t exactly exude a lot of fear in opposing offensive coordinators. Matthews has to play, and play well. That’s terrible analysis, but the Packers need someone to solidify this defense as a leader and as a player.

Hawk could only satisfy one of those things because his speed was the albatross on the Packers’ defense. Matthews has a chance to do both. But the more time he spends on the bench will not only diminish his credibility as a leader, but it will also diminish his playing ability. 


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (28) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

croatpackfan's picture

I understand your concern, but in real life we do not know what is with Clay! They discribed the reason for not practicing as soreness, but it may be also some knee ligament issue, like some relatively small damage that do not need surgery, but need time to heal! It can also be some artrosis that can be treated conservative etc. We need little patience. I believe Packers (as organization) has answers to the possible problems...

DrealynWilliams's picture

Similar to the end of the Seahawks game?

Handsback's picture

Because Green Bay and all of the NFL teams give very little information on injuries.....hard to say what's up w/ Clay. He could have hyperextended it or have even aworst strain. No matter. Whatever the issue is, if Clay sits out the entire pre-season and is ready to go against the Bears the D will be fine. I doubt Clay needs a ton of practice to get ready for the regular season.

Since '61's picture

Cory - as an FYI, Mike Spofford at wrote that Clay returned to practice yesterday. As for leadership abilities I would agree that he needs to step up in that area even when he is healthy. Thanks, Since '61

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I can't work up very much concern, assuming MM is being reasonably honest about the nature and extent of CM3's injury. I'm not worried about Clay's leadership and gambling, which I see as playing with speed and instincts. CM3 crosses the LOS, whereas Hawk rarely got near it to fill a gap or beat a pulling G to the spot.

ray nichkee's picture

You lost me with the G spot.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Cory wrote: "He [CM3] freelances more often than not and sometimes he gets burned. Sometimes those gambles pay off, but does he continue to take those same chances when rookies and inexperienced players are counting on him to set a good example?"

I think he freelanced more at OLB than at ILB. Ray, I probably should have written freelances rather than gambles - the way I wrote it made it sound like shades of Hornung.

cheezit's picture

With regard to missing parts of training camp, I wish you had simply said "I think Clay Matthews is malingering" rather than using five hundred words to insinuate it.

MarkinMadison's picture

I don't think that is what he is insinuating. No one in their right mind thinks that CM3 was not in the Seahawks game a crunch time because he is malingering. I think he is simply saying you can't be an effective on-field leader if you are not on the field. He's saying it would be better if CM3 was out there now, building the chemistry.

OTOH it's not hard to read between the lines here - the Packers are very cautious about injuries at this time of year. I'm happy to see the other LBs get plenty of reps.

MarkinMadison's picture

I don't think that is what he is insinuating. No one in their right mind thinks that CM3 was not in the Seahawks game a crunch time because he is malingering. I think he is simply saying you can't be an effective on-field leader if you are not on the field. He's saying it would be better if CM3 was out there now, building the chemistry.

OTOH it's not hard to read between the lines here - the Packers are very cautious about injuries at this time of year. I'm happy to see the other LBs get plenty of reps.

PaulRosik's picture

He was insinuating that he is hurt much worse than the Packers are admitting. Matthews has always gone total kamikaze to the ball throughout his career and this has resulted in him always being nicked up. At tomes it almost appears Matthews is good for one injury per sack. You know sack the QB and hurt his hand on the sack....make a big stop in the backfield and tweak his hamstring. He's usually the best playmaker the D has even while perpetually playing at 75 %. But it would be nice if he could stay out there without being listed on the injury report every week.

Nick Perry's picture

We've brought up that subject I cringe over, "What if Matthews _______" (Fill in Blank). The injury, no matter how small the Packers suggest (What else would MM say?) is concerning because of the time missed. The Packers depend WAY to much on Matthews and to depend so much on one player in a sport where your career can be over in one play is concerning. This is exactly why Free Agency shouldn't be ignored. When TT has dove in he's hit a home run in most cases. Tony McDaniels just signed with Tampa for $2.5 million. That's pretty affordable for a DL player who's not to old and a team on the cusp. I know McDaniels doesn't play LB. My point is FA can be a effective when used in small amounts. Be honest, do the Packers make the NFC Championship game without Peppers last year?

The Packers have been careful with Matthews before, usually it's a hamstring but we've been here before. Hopefully Matthews can play for 19 games at a high level and the Packers are really "Just being Cautious", if not well...

Dan Stodola's picture

The Packers do use FA in small doses, just not big enough small doses for you. Wait. Is that a contradiction?

Woodson, Peppers are just 2 FA but they've made HUGE contributions. A few others had little to no effect and weren't around long enough to be noticed.

Packers have said they are just being cautious w/ Matthews. Really don't see this as anything to spend time getting upset about.

Leaders come in all types of packages. Just cuz he's not a rah rah in your face leader doesn't mean he's not a leader. Leader by example is still a leader.

PaulRosik's picture

TT is never going to go big time into FA. You just have to live with it. I also believe this season deserves a little "now or never" approach to it as this team is at that edge of being at the top. Like the way the mid 90's Packers went all in and got Sean Jones and Eugene Robinson and Keith Jackson to add to an already good team. But TT believes differently and thinks that free agents usually do not pay off and cost your team money and chemistry. As for why the Packers "depend" on Matthews so much is because players like Perry, Jones, and Neal have not done enough. So rather than needing Matthews what the Packers really need is for those other guys yo do more.

Nick Perry's picture

That's kinda my point Dan and Paul. I honestly think the Packers are the team to beat this season. They have depth at every offensive position except TE but with the WR the Packers have they can get by just fine with Rodgers and/or Quarless and a rookie IMO.

I for the most part am a huge TT supporter. But I think Paul TOTALLY nailed it, this season DOES deserve a little now or never. That's not to say I don't think they'll be there next year or the after, but when you can help your team for $2.5 million for example you should, especially with close to $18 million of cap room left. I think we pretty much know what Perry and Neal are going to bring to the table. But you're right others do need to step up.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Hi, Dan and Nick. I submit that TT has scored on all of his big FA signings (not counting our re-signing our own FAs): Pickett, Woodson, and Peppers. Otherwise, TT has brought in a bunch of low or no risk veterans, most of which did not work out but cost little or nothing, like Klemm, and just a few who did work out, like Guion ($100K guarantee). What TT has not really done is bring in mid-level FAs very much. The only guy I can think of is Marquand Manuel, 5yrs, $10 million with $2 million guaranteed (which at the time was decent, mid-tier money).

Wolf did a bit more of the mid level but not star level - Santana Dotson at 3 yrs, $4.5 to $5.4 million, Eugene Robinson and Keith Jackson, and also a bigger FA, Sean Jones, 3yrs, $7.8 million (which was very significant money back then - White got $4 million per year), .

Anyway, I think some of us are more willing to try (and try is the operative word) to plug a hole with a mid- level FA at say ILB, TE, and DL. McDaniels can earn "up to" $2.5 million - no mention of any guaranteed amounts yet. I am not that familiar with him - IDK if he is better than Boyd or Datone. If not, I'd have passed on him since we already have a numbers issue at DL, but he did sign pretty cheap.

mnklitzke's picture

It sounds like you think the packers are playing favorites with Clay.. Honestly I don't care if Clay takes one practice snap if he produces on the field. Packers have done this stuff for years. Clifton only did walk through in his later years, Sitton was very limited last year with toe injury.. Not worried. As to leading a defense... is there any question? YES Hawk lost his starting job last year. He called plays but wasn't leader of the defense until Matthews go here. Matthews just leads by example and terrorizing the opposing QB is being the leader of the D. Think your worrying to much about a guy that yes gets nicked up but still is leader in sacks with GB year in and out.

WKUPackFan's picture

Good read Cory, thanks. Some folks are leaders and some aren't, it's just not in their nature. Maybe Clay is a quiet leader, we really don't know for sure. I'd say taking on a new position, effectively at least doubling Clay's responsibilities, is a good example for the team. As long he continues to play at a high level, I don't think it's that important for Clay to be a vocal leader.

The TKstinator's picture

I think leadership is one of the most difficult aspects to measure. There are so many styles: "vocal leader", "lead by example", etc.
The players know who the leaders are, and they might not be very forthcoming about it.
Clay is a great player.
Does he get nicked up a lot? Yes!
Is he a great leader? I don't know.

aj's picture

I don't get the impression that Clay is the vocal leader you guys want him to be. Similar to Steph Curry in Golden State, I think he can be the best player on the defense without being the vocal leader. Daniels or Barrington can play that Draymond Green type role.

4thand1's picture

One of the last games of the year or maybe the Dallas playoff game, Peppers was asked to give a pregame speech. MM was impressed as were all the players. The team was fired up and motivated. This team has leaders and I'm not worried about motivation. Bring on the season. GOPACKGO.

Clay Zombo's picture

Do you really think Hawk was a great vocal leader? I dont. Yeah he received the play calls and got people lined up but that was his job. Just like its Morgan Burnetts job to line up the DBs. Do you think hes a vocal leader outside of that?

Mike Daniels is a talker, hes always talking and sure hes taken it upon himself to toughen up the team a bit but does he make anyone else around him better? Besides Guion and Raji 2 vets, has he really helped anyone get better on the field with all that talking?

Give Matthews Hawk's job and I assure you he will excel at it. Hes instinctive and aggressive, Hawk was the opposite of that. Hawk could have watched film all day every day and he would still never have the kind of impact Clay has or will have at ILB.

He may not be completely comfortable being the QB of the defense but he will get used it and do it better than Hawk did and for that I have no doubt.

Health is the only thing you can question about this guy and its because of the way he plays, balls out. He played every game last year, so we just have to hope for the best and let the chips fall where they may.

Dan Stodola's picture

I'm pretty certain Barrington will be the guy w/ the headset in his helmet and the guy getting everyone the playcal and on the same page. Matthews will be moving around too much to have that on his plate.

Clay Zombo's picture

You may be right about Barrington getting the headset because hes will spend more time inside but my point remains. Clay could run the defense and do it well if they asked him to, zero doubt.

Zac Larson's picture

These comments are killing me right now.. For anyone to doubt Clay's toughness is a joke. When you think of someone going all out, every play, it's Clay(and Mike Daniels, but he's not involved in this right now). Yes he's missed multiple practices for multiple years and always comes back where he left off. However, he's had an entire off season to get ready for inside as well as the beginning of camp(which he was healthy for, btw, contrary to this article). Remember he only had four practices to prepare to play inside against the Bears, and how well did that game turn out? Actually, how well did the rest of the season turn out? His switch alone changed this past season into a memorable one. However, the fact that he wasn't voted as a team captain for the playoffs, could raise a debate about his leadership, no doubt. But, lead by example right? Which is the same thing ex packers said about Arod when they were hating on his leadership. With all I said, I really hope Daniels becomes the leader/captain of this defense. His mental make up and physical prescence is second to none on this packer D. I feel like most packer fans can agree with that.

Go Pack

Icebowler's picture

I would like to see Burnett step up this year and be more of a leader of the D. Being voted a co-captain for the playoffs should give him more confidence. He was probably less confident early last year after having a sub-par 2013. But that was due to the awful play by the players at Safety next to him. With HHCD making a big second year jump, I think Burnett may well step up to the plate in the leadership department.

Dan Stodola's picture

Being voted cocaptain of the Defense for the playoffs should tell you he's already a leader among his peers. I didn't get the feeling he lacked confidence last year.

Icebowler's picture

Point taken. The point I was trying to make is that Burnett wasn't given much consideration in this article and especially the prior comments. I hope he takes the leadership bull by the horns this year and runs with it so to speak.

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