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Peppers Improves Two Positions: Meet Clay Matthews, the Packers' Newest Inside Linebacker

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Peppers Improves Two Positions: Meet Clay Matthews, the Packers' Newest Inside Linebacker

For every reason the Julius Peppers signing doesn't make sense for the Green Bay Packers, there's another reason it does.

Some crtiics will point out that Peppers is over the hill at 34 years old. But with those years comes veteran savvy and experience, something new teammate Tramon Williams complained was lacking on this perpetually-young Packers team.

The argument can also be made that with big 325-plus lb. bodies like Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly currently no longer under contract, the Packers defense is getting smaller and less stout with Peppers replacing them on the roster. On the other hand, Peppers brings an element of pass rush those run stuffers never had.

But perhaps one of the best reasons the new $30 million investment makes sense for the Packers is that Peppers essentially improves two positions at once. Meet Clay Matthews, the Packers' newest inside linebacker.

Julius Peppers wasn't kidding when he predicted "something different" in the aftermath of the his signing.

No, Clay Matthews probably isn't about to become a true inside linebacker anytime soon. But for anyone wondering how the Packers are going to put their best pass rushers and arguably their best athletes on the field all at the same time, lining up Matthews at a traditional inside linebacker spot makes the entire Green Bay defense a whole lot scarier.

Skeptics will wonder why the Packers would move Matthews from his outside linebacker position as an edge rusher. "If it's not broke, don't fix it," they'll argue.

But the addition of an equally effective pass rusher like Peppers will essentially offset any concerns about where the pressure off the edge is going to come from.

When the Packers are in their nickel and dime packages (which is majority of the time), their front four players on the line of scrimmage could theoretically include some dangerous combination of Mike Daniels and Datone Jones as the interior rushers and either Mike Neal or Nick Perry lining up opposite Peppers on the edge.

Rather than have Matthews or any of the afore-mentioned players sitting on the sidlines, the Packers can instead take either A.J. Hawk or Brad Jones out of the game, replaced by Matthews.

As the saying goes, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And Matthews can get pretty darn close to the quarterback from inside linebacker, especially if the QB is lining up under center. With Matthews' cat-like quickness, the Packers can really take advantage of situational football.

Voilà. The Packers defense just got a whole lot more athletic, multiple and unpredictable.

Is Matthews going to blitz or drop into coverage? If he blitzes, is he going to the right side or the left side of center? Are Daniels and Peppers going to run a stunt? Or is it Neal and Jones?

No one knows the answers to these questions, least of all opposing offenses.

To think Matthews at inside linebacker is a stretch, it's not as if this isn't something the Packers haven't done already. Granted, it's not something they've done frequently, but they've already utilized Matthews as a pass rusher, charging up the gut. They've also used him there to spy athletic quarterbacks.

By no means is anyone suggesting a full-time conversion to inside linebacker is in the works. Matthews taking on guards, filling lanes and spilling runs probably isn't something the Packers are interested in seeing, or at least not very often.

Whenever the Packers are in their base 3-4 front, Matthews lining up at his old outside linebacker spot is still probably where he's his most effective. Maybe even at left outside linebacker, thereby allowing Nick Perry to rush from right side, where he seems to have his most success. And that's only if Peppers isn't there first.

The addition of Peppers also guards against injury, as observers of the Packers have become so used to seeing the past several seasons. If Matthews is hurt, the Packers can get by with Hawk and Jones at inside linebacker. But it's nice to know that could be Plan B, not Plan A.

The same goes for any of the edge rushers. If Perry, Neal or Peppers is hurt, Matthews can just as easily line up where he always has the first five seasons of his career too.

That's what makes the addition of Peppers such a genius move.


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 [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (47) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Okay. I get it. In Nickel situations (obvious passing situations) I could see whichever 2 D-Linemen,Perry (LOLB),Neal (ROLB) with Mathews and/or Hawk/Jones/Lattimore/Rookie in the middle. I was skeptical at first seeing some suggest Clay moving to the middle by some posters. I'm not sure if they meant it in the same way though. I like it. Another win -- never seeing Neal/Perry attempting to cover anyone or any zone.

ben's picture

clay nitschke?

DrealynWilliams's picture

Why,Ben? Why?

ben's picture


ben's picture

Is Chris Clemons still available? Anybody?

Hey! Jimmy Leonhard. Talk to Ted before you sign with anybody!!!

Thee Path to the Draft
X FA signing, Sam Shields, - check
X FA signing, Neal or Melton, - check
X FA signing, Quarless, - check
(f) FA signing, EDS (2 years, 8.5 million) - FAIL
X RFA signing, Lattimore, - check
X FA signing, Jared Allen (2 year, 19 million)[or Julius]
#7 FA signing, S: Chris Clemons (2 year, 8.25 million)
or S: Jim Leonhard
X FA signing, Raji,(< $4.1 million) - check
#9 FA signing, Devin Hester (2 year, 4 million)
#10 FA signing, Matt Flynn (< Tolzien) *optional*
#11 FA signing, Starks (3 year, 5.25 million) *optional*
#12 FA singing, Jolly *not optional*

Clay Zombo's picture

Literally laughed out loud at that guys, funny stuff.

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, this move to me really impacts the front 7 as a whole, not just DE or OLB.

As you stated Brian, this signing allows for different formations and lineups to help create pressure on offenses. I like the idea of allowing Mathews to roam around vs staying at OLB. Maybe they will finally bring back the Pscyho.
I also like the fact that with Mathews already demanding so much attention and now Peppers will get some attention as well, it should and will open up things for other pass rushers, such as Daniels, Jones, Perry/Neal and even Raji.

I really love the idea of having their nickel defense of Daniels,Jones and possibly Peppers on the DL, with Neal/Perry, Mathews, Hawk at LB.

The flexibility that Peppers brings Neal also can provide with the ability to play DL and possibly LB. Both players could play with their hand on the ground or standing up. Jones also showed last year he can play in the 2 point stance too...

The flexibility will be a major key to improving the defense. With Peppers they will have the opportunity to do that.

Evan's picture

Speaking of stout...Letroy Guion signed...6'4", 303.

Probably look to the draft for another 320+ NT type (can't have Raji do it all himself). Then again, the DL is getting pretty filled up. I wonder how secure Worthy's roster spot is.

Evan's picture

ha....just saw that...not the greatest highlight for him. Reminds me of myself in high school.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Ha! I'm just trying to find some film on him. I hope he brings something more than just a big body unlike Howard Green during the SB run back in '10.

Evan's picture

I think I'd rather have Jolly, honestly (assuming he's healthy). But we'll see.

It's only a 1 year deal, so it's hardly a guarantee he makes the final 53.

ben's picture

Jolly hopefully, or just about any 2014 draftpick or undrafted free agent. What did they give him?

RCPackerFan's picture

I think they will keep 6-7 DL, Right now they have Peppers, Raji, Jones, Daniels, Worthy, Boyd, Guion. (7).

I think they will still draft someone for the DL, but now I would think it will be later in the draft. 6th/7th round. Maybe a guy like Beau Allen.

I would say this is a big offseason for Worthy. This is really his first offseason with the Packers.

Evan's picture

Last year they kept 7 plus Neal - and that surprised a lot of people.

So, yeah, 6-7 seems likely. I'd love Jolly back - as Brian said on twitter, he could be a PUP guy.

Of those 7, I'd say Peppers, Raji, Jones, Daniels and Boyd are locks for the roster.

And, of course, injuries always happen.

I like the idea of Beau Allen.

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, I was going to say that as well. That Jolly could be a PUP guy...
Which with injuries and whatnot, he might be a good guy to bring back in the middle of the season next year.

Yeah, I think those 5 are locks. I think Worthy would have to be terrible to be cut, and we'll have to see what Guion brings.

Also don't forget that they plan on using Neal on the DL also this year. How much we don't know but they still have him as a rotational guy as well...

DrealynWilliams's picture

I agree. Only 4 are lock-ins. Probably 5 ONLY because we wouldn't have a backup NT (Boyd). I'm trying to picture the best 3 linemen for the base defense and it's tough. I can't picture the Pack drafting a DL strictly for his pass rushing ability this go 'round.

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, I'm thinking if they draft someone on the DL it will be more of a run stuffing NT type. With only Raji as a true NT, I could see them wanting to bring in someone with some good size.
But I don't expect them to draft someone high if they were to. 5th round probably the earliest.

ben's picture

Here's your late-round run stuffing NT type, thee Steal of the Draft:

DT/NT: Zack Kerr -

He really couldn't be anymore under-rated or nasty. A bigger, faster Johnny Jolly. From Delaware in the 6th.

8.1 Dlineman: Julius Peppers(.7), Neal(.4), Daniels, Datone, Raji, Boyd, Zak Kerr(Round6Pick4), Beau Allen(Round7pick21), [Jolly/Worthy]

DrealynWilliams's picture

I enjoyed the nastiness on 1 option play. He sent the QB flying to the ground with a 2-hand shove and STILL made it to the ball carrier and assisted on the tackle. He has a nice first step,good motor and a hell of a hustle. BUUUUUUT,he never faced constant double teams. How would he adjust to that being in a 3-4?

ben's picture

HA! (I just noticed he ended up making the tackle on the replay)

Looks to me, he can do anything he wants. I love his power swim move.

Zack Kerr: 326 lbs, 5.08 40, 7.93 Cone, 28 Reps.
Louis Nix: 331 lbs, 5.42 40, 8.29 Cone, ? Reps.
JustinEllis:334 lbs, 5.27 40, 7.81 Cone, 25 Reps.
McCullers: 352 lbs,----------------------------- 27 Reps.
BJ Raji---- : 337 lbs, 5.12 40, 7.90 Cone, 33 Reps

Allan Murphy's picture

the best player on the board ............

4thand1's picture

Who the fuck were the teams he was playing against. Some of the o-linemen looked 250 lbs or less. Be leary of these small schools with stand out players.

4thand1's picture

Ol Ted pulled a NFNC brain picks. Got Peppers who knows thebearsstillsuck defense, and Guion who knows the queens defense. 90 bodies in training camp. Fight it out.

Imma Fubared's picture

I always thought that Mathews with his size and speed could play middle linebacker and be more effective than how they've been using him.
I just see him being a monster in the middle. But that's my opinion.

I did see in another draft scenario -I love those, this one had the team selecting a multiple of players, funny, The Packers draft had then taking ta da da da...... Cook as one of our choices. I posted this guy is scary. Runs a 4.3 40, cuts on a dime and has great hands. Him and Cobb would scare the crap out of defenses.

RCPackerFan's picture

I really do think that Mathews could be a great rusher from the middle. Although, I don't see him doing it a lot. I think he will still rush mainly from his OLB spot, I do think they will rush him more from the ILB spot.

I was hoping they would have done it last year with Perry at ROLB, and Neal at LOLB. Now they could still do that and have Peppers and Daniels inside with Mathews coming from the middle.
The way I'm seeing this, the options are limitless with what they can do as far as lineups go.

If they were to go WR in the first I think a guy they might look at is Marqise Lee. He just seems like a guy that could be a Packer. I have seen/heard him falling a bit in some peoples rankings, so there is a chance he could be there when the Packers picked.
I don't think it will happen, just saying its a possibility.

ben's picture

Not that I'm for drafting him but CJ Mosely makes a lot of plays faking the blitz up the middle, then dropping back reading the QB in zone coverage. (Maybe not as good actually blitzing, in run support, or possibly man to man coverage.) Clay is a real threat there and will get his Sacks and TFLs blitzing off Raji's fat ass. He'll hit anything over the middle and will get a few FF. He's the best LB I've seen in man coverage and will get his PD's and INT's.

Marquise Lee does look Like Ted's kind of guy. Good after the catch. Reminds me of Greg Jennings. But I'd be just a happy with Martavis Bryant, OdelBeckham, Jordon Matthews, or Abbidarous.

DrealynWilliams's picture

The more I think about it the more I'm hoping for Shazier to fall. 3-4 MLBs who aren't the "250": Willis,Bowman,Sean Lee,Timmons,Daryl Washington,Derrick Johnson,Bobby Wagner,D'Qwell Jackson,Jon Beason. Shazier can be protected by our NT taking on 2 and Hawk going back to being the "Thumper".

Jordan's picture

The recent turn of events make ILB or safety a distinct possibility in round 1.

jh9's picture

If C.J. Mosley is available for our first pick, we take him! If not, and Calvin Pryor is available, we take him. If neither of those guys are available, Eric Ebron would be a good first round pick, too.

Allan Murphy's picture

they all gone then who ????????

jh9's picture

I think one of these three will be available. However, you ask a good question. If the best ILB, S, or TE is not available for a 1st round pick, I could see us picking the best CB. Why? Do we know Casey Hayward will not have recurring hamstring problems? Do we know if Devon House will finally live up to all the expectations we have of him? If we move Micah Hyde to safety, that would seem to open up a position to another CB. Also, Tramon Williams has only one year left on his contract. The best CB in this draft would be Darqueze Dennard. I could see the logic in this pick, but I really want C.J. Mosley. I hope like heck he's available.

HankScorpio's picture

Tramon Williams might be heading into his final season in GB, too. I could definitely see them drafting a CB in round 1. Especially if they do a little more work filling out the depth prior to that point.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Yep - yep. I hope other teams that are a draft or two ahead of us (and not needing a MLB) don't pull some b/s like the Bears did the year they drafted Shea McClellin. He's done little to nothing (but hurt Rodgers) over there in Chicago. What would be crazy? If Ebron drops as well.

ben's picture

How about an ILB that can play safety? The co-freak of the draft Psycho Ryan Shazier. (other co-freak being Brandin Cooks)

I'm telling you, Watch out for the Psycho-Elephant!

Jordan's picture

Didn't you want the Packers to draft Brooks Reed in 2011 too? ;)

DrealynWilliams's picture

Over Cobb? Hell no. Would I have liked him? Damn right.

ben's picture

My #1 option would have been to sell the farm to go up and get Patrick Peterson and play him at safety. Derek Sharrod was my greatest hope at #32.

Ur right though, Reed was up there.

With who was left:
1. Sharrod
2. Torrey Smith
3. Brooks Reed
4. Brandin Harris

Not good by me or Ted. But I'm still a fan of his Alex Green, DJ Smith, & Davon House picks that year. And Randall Cobb of course who many thought we'd take in the 1st, but was there last pick in the 2nd.

Allan Murphy's picture

these guys crazy ??

ben's picture

3-4 Run

Nickel Run

3-4 Pass
Perry/Neal--AJ Hawk/Jones ---Jones/Clay--Clay/Perry

Nickel Pass

4-3 run

4-3 Nickel

olwig420's picture

So your going to try to over work a 34 year old D lineman by lining him up in every scheme we have. That is exactly the opposite of what we should do with him.

ben's picture

Yes. That's right, every snap.

Not only that, we could get him some work on offense too. He'd make a great TE, specially down in the redzone. Put him in on special teams. He could probably get us a few blocked kicks with his tremendous length and all. And why not use him as an unstoppable gunner in kick coverage, when he's not kicking of course. But no matter how much I'd like to see Julius Peppers return a kick, he is 34 and that might be asking a little too much.

Allan Murphy's picture

team 94 right this year ???

HankScorpio's picture

Matthews has the skills to play inside or outside at LB.

Peppers, Neal and Perry can play with their hand up or down.

Hyde can play back as a Safety or move up the slot.

I hope the Packers are serious about being "more multiple" and we see examples of all that on the field in 2014. It is possible to execute a system so well that you can stick to it through thick and thin. But the Packers don't execute that well on defense. So mixing things up would seem in order. Especially with so many versatile players.

Birnbaum's picture

While I'd be content with only a thumper MLB and FS to draft(given Hyde is no sure thing), it couldn't hurt to add at OLB and another run stuffing DE/NT would be nice. Hard to say how the numbers on the front 7 will work out given there is so much flexibility in the group already.

Other than FS, there simply isn't a great deal of need on defense anymore. BPA is going to be in full force and this will be one of TT's best drafts. There is such an impressive top 75 to this class. I really hope that TT trades up to nab 3 difference makers on either side of the ball in that wheelhouse.

With that in mind, value will be found all over. We still need a TE, 2 WRs, back up QB (Flynn?), a G/C and G. I'd love to have Starks back. If Cobb/Nelson will take $7/8M average re-up asap. If not they'll average $9-10M and a $12M+ franchise tag for one. IDK how those two are going to play out. That's what I'm most worried about now....

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree that we need a S, NT, TE, ILB, DE, (1) WR, G/C, more of less in that order, but always depending on BPA and what TT thinks about each individual prospect. Depending on how the draft falls, I would have no problem with TT trading down in the 1st round unless say Mosley, Ha-Ha, or Nix and maybe Ebron were available at 21. This is a deep draft as you say. If we get a 3rd Rd compensatory pick, GB could have 5 choices in the top 100 or so if they trade down. The NFL showed no love for slot receivers in the last couple of years, so Cobb might be available for the $7/8 million you mentioned, especially since he brings a little extra to the table as a returner and half back, but Nelson is going to command big money. There are reports that Starks has agreed to a 2 yr deal, but IDK the $. When I get some time I will change my log in name back to The Great Reynoldo.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I previously read about moving CM to ILB at least in some situations, so I was interested in this article and had hoped there would be more comments about that issue. I guess I did not really think Peppers could play OLB at his age. IDK, maybe he can: we'll see what the coaches think. I thought maybe we would see Neal and Perry at OLB, with Matthews (and Jones or Hawk) at ILB in passing situations, and Peppers and Daniels/Jones on the line. There seem to be other combinations available to Capers if he doesn't think Neal/Perry can drop into coverage or hold the edge well enough.

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"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall. "
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