Clay Matthews' return will help solidify the Packers' defense. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Clay Matthews: Staying on the field

Undersized and a backup at best – those are not words you hear kicked around often these days when it comes to Clay Matthews III.

However, those are words his dad had to deal with as his defensive coordinator in high school.

Coming out of high school, Clay Matthews was not a highly recruited player by any stretch of the imagination. This led him to a walk-on role at the family alma matter, the University of Southern California. Things didn’t get much easier for Clay at this point either.

Matthews refused playing time in mop up duty his freshman campaign to avoid losing his redshirt eligibility. Following his redshirt freshman campaign the identity of Clay Matthews was born – his motor. He rallied off three consecutive special teams player of the year awards to close out his life at USC.

Even though his career numbers at USC were not off the charts, with 94 total tackles along with 5 sacks, he managed to shine in his senior year and grace the cover of Sports Illustrated with a couple of his other soon-to-be NFL teammates. Many draft experts had him marked with a first round projection.

Brett Favre, a name not many link to Clay Matthews but in fact the third round pick acquired from the Jets for Favre, was indeed part of the package that brought Matthews to Green Bay.

With the 26th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers selected Clay Matthews III, LB from the University of Southern California.

Matthews quickly burst onto the NFL scene, making Ted Thompson look like a draft genius. Making the Pro Bowl to replace an injured Lance Briggs. The NFC defensive rookie of the year, “The Claymaker,” tallied 10 sacks.

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Clay Matthews (52) faces San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) after a sack in last year’s season-opener. Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports photograph

In 2010, Matthews set the Packers franchise record for most sacks in a postseason with 3.5 sacks. His game-changing strip of Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall may have been the final play that clinched Super Bowl 45 for the Packers.

“He has another gear I didn’t have”-Kevin Greene

Kevin Greene, former linebackers coach for the Packers, described Matthews as having a set of skills not seen in an outside linebacker. “He has another gear I didn’t have.”

This brings us to the “Iron Man” mentality of the Matthews family. A family that prides itself on being on the field every play and every game – a trait that could arguably be made was lost with Clay Matthews III.

Since the 2011 season, Clay has only participated in 38 of 48 regular season games for the Packers.

A Packers team that has been absolutely anemic in the pass rushing category. There is no doubt when #52 is on the field he requires a certain amount of attention and his skill set makes the Packers’ defense a credible force.

The problem is obviously the fact Matthews’ presence has been missing more than not over the last few seasons. This has really stood out in the pass rush category, leading to some of the worst team defensive statics in all of the league.

Matthews has been plagued by both hamstring and now thumb issues. Many lifelong Packers fans have put his toughness under the microscope. Obviously the game has changed.

1023687In today’s game a player is not going to play with the same injuries as in the past. Contracts are loaded with guaranteed money and a dump truck full just for signing your name on the line. Long-term health and quality of life should always be number one.

The question this raises for the 2014 Green Bay Packers is whether Clay Matthews III is a benefit to the team for what they traded away several draft picks?

They need him to stay on the field.

Obviously the defense is a different squad when Clay is on the field. He requires a lot of attention from opposing foes and has a motor that never quits or idles on any play.

For Dom Capers’ squad to return to form and carry this team back to the glory, #52 must strap on the pads for the duration of the season.

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