GREEN BAY, WIS. (AP) - Until Clay Matthews went on a season-opening, offense-wrecking tear over the past two Sundays, no Green Bay Packers pass rusher had ever put together back-to-back three-sack games _ not even Reggie White.
Despite missing most of training camp with a sore left hamstring, Matthews picked up where he left off after a 10-sack rookie season. And he’s earning remarkably high praise from somebody who ought to know; Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene says Matthews has all the tools to become the best all-around 3-4 outside linebacker in NFL history.
Not bad for a guy who came to Southern Cal as a walk-on despite his family’s strong football pedigree, but is now embracing the spotlight with every muscle-flexing sack celebration.
“We play this game for a number of reasons, and I do enjoy being in the spotlight and performing under such pressure circumstances,” Matthews said. “At ‘SC,’ we were fortunate to have a great number of players on the team and I kind of flew under the radar, and I’ve just kind of been working my tail off ever since. It’s all coming to fruition and paying off.”
General manager Ted Thompson broke character to make an unusually aggressive move in the 2009 draft, trading up to acquire a second first-round pick and using it on Matthews _ a player who usually took a back seat to Southern Cal teammates Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga when it came to national attention in college.
The Packers were making the transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Dom Capers, and saw Matthews as a key piece who could help the team make the transition so quickly. They ended up with a player who forces opposing offenses to game plan specifically to stop him.
“He has more athletically than I ever had,” Greene said. “He really is a special outside linebacker in the history of outside linebackers playing the 3-4 defense. And I’ve said this before, I’ve not seen another outside linebacker possess the all-around quality of abilities that he has. And I’m talking about the best ones that have ever played the position.”
Matthews can drop into pass coverage and play the run, but has made his biggest plays as a pass rusher.
Matthews started the season with a jarring hit that eventually took Eagles starting quarterback Kevin Kolb out of the game, ending the day with three sacks. Then he dropped Bills quarterback Trent Edwards another three times on Sunday.
“It’s ridiculous,” Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar said. “It’s fun to watch. I’m glad to be a part of it. When you have some guy going like that that hard, it makes you want to cover better so he can get some cover sacks.”
“I think one of the greatest motivations in life is if you’ve had people at times tell you you can’t do something,” Capers said. “Nothing’s more rewarding than going out and proving them wrong. Clay’s one of those guys that if you tell him he can’t do something, you’re probably telling that to the wrong guy.”
And how on earth was Matthews _ the son of longtime NFL player Clay Jr., nephew of NFL offensive lineman Bruce and grandson of Clay Sr. _ a walk-on at Southern Cal?
“I don’t think he was real big,” Capers said. “He was probably one of those guys that’s been in the weight room. He’s really a well-conditioned athlete. Probably his hamstring issues are because he’s trained so hard. Sometimes, you can overtrain a little bit. I think he takes a smart, calculated approach to everything that he does.”