GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews doesn’t do giddy. He’s too Hollywood to let that level of excitement show.
But you can be the Green Bay Packers star pass rusher is thrilled beyond words that the team drafted Nick Perry to be his defensive running mate this season.
“Obviously, with Nick coming in here, bringing a presence off the edge, it’s only going to help us out,” Matthews said Tuesday. “You look historically at 3-4 defenses and the success of outside linebackers, there’s two studs coming off the edge. Even in today’s game, you look at Pittsburgh, the (Dallas) Cowboys, some of those teams, they’ve got some studs.”
Matthews spent Tuesday’s first organized team activity practice at right outside linebacker, moving back to the position he played as a rookie in 2009 after playing on the left side the past two seasons. Perry, meanwhile, lined up with the No. 1 defense on the left side. Matthews’ move was expected after Perry worked exclusively on the left side in practice during the post-draft rookie orientation camp, and he was more than happy to make it.
“The misnomer about the position is that we’re stuck to one side. On paper, it’s going to say ‘left outside linebacker’ or ‘right outside linebacker.’ Really, those positions are interchangeable, so the faster we can get (Perry) up to speed, the faster we can have some fun moving him around, flying around and making some plays together,” Matthews explained after practice. “
So he’ll be moving around more than he did last season, when he lined up almost exclusively on the left side, allowing opposing offenses to game plan for him and know where he was going to be?
“I hope so. That’s the plan. It’s all about mismatches and preferable lineups,” Matthews said. “Whenever we can take advantage of that by playing on the right side, left side, in the middle — wherever you want me to play — I think we’re all about that. So, hopefully, that’s the case.”
Midway through last season, after a victory at San Diego, cornerback Charles Woodson questioned why defensive coordinator Dom Capers wasn’t moving Matthews around more. At that point in the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Matthews had lined up for 502 plays this season. He lined up on the left side for 480 of them (95.6 percent), in the middle for 6 of them (1.2 percent) and on the right side for 16 snaps (3.2 percent). He was a pass-rusher on 288 pass plays and dropped into coverage on 72 plays. Capers did not move him around much after that, either.
While moving to the right side would mean facing opposing left tackles, Matthews said that is not a major issue. “I’m not afraid of their best protector, if that’s what you’re asking me,” he said. “I’ll come off the left, I’ll come off the right, I’ll come up the middle. Everyone (on opposing offensive lines) can have a chance.”
Instead, moving the 255-pound Matthews makes sense because most offenses run to the right side, the strong side where the tight end frequently aligns himself. Consequently, 3-4 defenses prefer to put the bigger of their two outside linebackers on the left side, since he should be a more effective run-stuffer and be able to hold up against double teams. The 271-pound Perry should be able to do just that.
“To me, this is a learning phase and an information phase. We're looking at a number of different things. In Nick's specific case, yes, we want to look at the left side,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Clay has played both sides now. We want to make sure we create targeting problems with Clay Matthews. But just like any young player, you do want to have a starting point and right now we want to look and see how comfortable Nick is on the left side."
Matthews acknowledged that Perry must grasp the defense quickly in order to make the move work.
“I think the faster we can get Nick up to speed, we can move him around and we can have some options,” Matthews said. “The good thing is I was able to play with him for one year at SC, so there’s a common bond there. In talking with the coaches in the pre-draft process, I liked the kid outside of his physical attributes just because he’s willing to learn, he wants to be good and he’s a character guy. First and foremost, he’ll fit in with this team. He’s already shown a willingness to learn. He’s been asking me questions. It’s only going to benefit him, as well as myself and this defense, the sooner he gets up to speed.
“I’m going to get him up to speed. He’ll be ready.”
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