If the Green Bay Packers are to get back to the Super Bowl a year after their season ended in disappointment at the hands of the New York Giants, they must get to the quarterback with greater regularity. The man leading that charge will be Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
I spoke to Matthews this past weekend not only about what the Packers need to do on defense to improve on their disappointing showing in 2011, but also how he views his role on a constantly evolving roster. We also chatted about his involvement with Gillette and the Boys and Girls Club with the “Predator Pose Challenge," a campaign you can read more about below.
Aaron Nagler: Let’s dive right into it. The Packers’ struggles on the defensive side of the ball last year were well documented throughout the offseason. Do you think you’ve done what needed to get done throughout training camp and preseason to prepare and ensure the defense is ready for the regular season?
Clay Matthews: I think so. I think we’re where we want to be. We had a great camp and did some good things. Ultimately, that consisted of a defense that needed improvement and an offense that needed to continue with what we were doing, and ultimately you want to have a little momentum after that fourth preseason game, certainly after the third. So it was good to see the first string on offense and defense make some plays.
And then to get victories against two good squads in Kansas City and Cincinnati, hopefully we did enough, did what we set out to do in camp. This weekend will be a great test with a difficult 49ers team coming in.
How do you see your role evolving on this team? You are still relatively young in terms of your career, but now there are a lot of young players looking up to you. Do you plan on taking more of an active leadership role?
I think, especially on this team, there’s not one voice that resonates with everybody. We have lots of older guys who lead by example. On the defense we’ve got some veterans in Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett. At the same time, there are younger guys who have stepped up, like Tramon Williams and myself. With all the new young guys on defense, ultimately it falls on us to lead by example, not only on the field, but off the field as well.
Have you started thinking about your next contract at all? The Packers have shown they are willing to approach players who they feel are core parts of their program early. Have the Packers approached you at all about extending your deal?
You know, I let my agent handle that. I try not to get too involved. From my time being here I’ve certainly learned that the Packers take care of their own players, especially the ones they’ve drafted, with Aaron (Rodgers), Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang to name a few. Hopefully that’s the case here. I still have two years left, so hopefully I’ll continue to stay healthy and make plays and everything will take care of itself.
Speaking of making plays, how has the switch back to the right side of the defense been working out for you?
I feel natural on both sides. After two years of being strictly on the left side, there was definitely a little period of adjustment, maybe all of a week, but I feel good where I’m at. I definitely like the idea of coming off the blind side. I think we’ve got some pressure up the middle now as well, some energy and some depth. I’d definitely look for us to get back to getting after the quarterback.
With no end in sight to the stalemate between the league and the NFLRA, how concerned are you about heading into Week 1 and playing with replacement officials?
Well, I think we’re all in the same boat here. There’s only so much worrying that you can do. At the same time, we’d like to see a resolution to it and see the best-prepared referees out there. Hopefully that comes sooner than later. You know, there was a time when the players had to hold their own with strikes, and the league had to hold their own with lockouts, so that all goes with negotiations. I’m just hopeful they can figure out a deal.
You were quoted by Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports as saying you thought that the New York Giants didn’t "beat" you guys in the playoffs. You said, "We picked the most inopportune time to play our worst ball. The fact is, they didn’t beat us; we beat ourselves. We need to play our best ball when it counts."
Several members of the Giants had a field day with that quote, including Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, David Snee and a few others. Do you regret phrasing it that way?
I think this is ultimately a case of the media taking what they want to hear and making headlines and a story out of it. They played better than us, we didn’t play our best ball and ultimately they got the victory, so more power to them.
You recently teamed up with Gillette to become a Gillette ambassador. What led you there, what’s it all about and how can fans get involved?
I just really liked what Gillette was doing with the Boys and Girls Club of America.
Ultimately, it was an easy decision to get involved. I just think it’s important, in my position, to always give back.
Fans can get involved by going to the Facebook page (Facebook.com/Gillette) and uploading their best picture that shows them emulating my sack celebration (Gillette is calling it the Predator Pose). For each picture that gets uploaded Gillette will make a donation to the Boys and Girls Club of America, and fans can win NFL gear, tickets, all sorts of cool prizes.
Thanks very much for making time to talk to Bleacher Report.
No problem, anytime.