Aaron Nagler and Tom Silverstein discuss the beginning of offseason work in Green Bay and look at the expected development of a few second and third year players. (April 17, 2017) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Beneath the widespread optimism accompanying the official start of the offseason program is the harsh reality that, for many members of the Green Bay Packers, this is the healthiest they will be all year. The impending collage of workouts, practices and games will only erode their bodies, albeit to varying degrees.
But for the moment, as the Packers reconvened this week for the first time since a crushing loss in the NFC championship game, nearly everyone feels terrific. Especially outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
“I feel great,” Matthews said Tuesday at Lambeau Field. “Unfortunately, the shoulder wasn’t going to heal up until I had a full offseason to recover. It’s as close to 100 (percent) as I can ask for. It will continue to keep getting stronger, but fortunately, I didn’t need any surgery on it. Just building up the muscle and everything around it.”
RELATED: A.J. Hawk will retire as a Packer
Matthews, who turns 31 in May, endured a fragmented season defined as much by injury as his modest production. He finished 13th on the team in tackles with 24 and managed only five sacks, a new career low. He ranked outside the top 80 players in the league in tackles for loss. He missed four games due to injury after appearing in all 32 regular-season games during the previous two years combined.
And while the vicious hit he absorbed against Philadelphia offered a lasting image, Matthews was also hobbled by ankle and hamstring injuries dating to Week 2.
After staggering through the playoffs with one-and-a-half arms, Matthews welcomed the months-long reprieve in his native California. He is, after months of treatment, the owner of a clean bill of health. The date on which that bill expires will serve as a barometer for the entire defense.
“I’m feeling good, feeling ready and really eager to get after the season,” Matthews said. “It reminds me a lot of after the 2013 season in which I had to have surgery on my thumb. Coming back the offseason was difficult and trying to get back up to speed, but ultimately I bounced back that year and I’m really eager and kind of champing at the bit to get back out there and show my worth and finally have some health on my side.”
As ever, the question of exactly where Matthews shows his worth remains a topic for discussion. His coach, Mike McCarthy, insists that Matthews is an outside linebacker whose skills also will be applied as a rover. But the longer the Packers lack consistency at inside linebacker, the more Matthews’ job description is subject to change.
At the moment, he is uncertain what to expect.
“I’m not sure,” Matthews said. “From my exit interviews last year and then obviously having a few interviews already with my position coach this year, I think the flexibility of myself being able to play multiple positions is really going to help this defense out. What I’m going to do is just stay ready for whatever it is they ask me to do. I’ve said that in the past and I’ve had success both on the outside and inside.
“Ultimately I think it’s just about being ready, and (defensive coordinator Dom Capers) always puts me in a position to succeed. We’ll see. It’s really early right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up playing all over the defense.”