Packers' Clay Matthews to share pass-rushing spotlight with Bears' Khalil Mack
GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews, like everyone else, knew the Green Bay Packers were pursuing a trade for pass rusher Khalil Mack.
His perspective might have been unique, however.
Matthews has been atop the outside linebacker depth chart (other than a stint at inside linebacker in 2014 and '15) since the day the Packers traded back into the first round to draft him in 2009. Mack’s presence would have potentially helped him on the field, but also supplanted him as the team’s top pass rusher.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that while Matthews said he would’ve welcomed Mack into the Packers' locker room, he suggested a trade was unnecessary.
“There was already a 52 here,” Matthews quipped this week.
Indeed, Mack won’t be the only player wearing No. 52 with a spotlight on him Sunday night. When the Packers open against the Chicago Bears, Matthews will enter the final season of his contract. At age 32, it’s likely his last chance to garner a big-money deal.
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If he stays healthy, Matthews will get plenty of chances to be impactful. The Packers have only four outside linebackers on their 53-man roster, though inside linebacker James Crawford has been cross trained to rush from the edge, adding a fifth.
The quartet’s depth is uncertain. While Reggie Gilbert may emerge to give the Packers a productive edge rusher off the sideline, Kyler Fackrell remains primarily a special-teams contributor. As currently constructed, the Packers could be relying a lot on Matthews and Nick Perry.
“Obviously in years prior,” Matthews said, “I think we might’ve had five or six – whatever it is – guys that would contribute on special teams or when we’d be down on the active roster in game day, but we feel like we’ve got a pretty good grasp of this season moving forward as far as how we see this thing playing out with play time and reps and everything. And obviously we’ll be smart coming into the first game with myself and Nick, and obviously with what Reggie’s been able to do and Kyler knowing the system as well. We’ll be smart, but at the same time we have to go out there and produce.
“I know it’s a position in which you don’t see a lot of guys playing 99 percent of the snaps at that position. So I’m sure there’ll be a rotation. Coaches and ourselves will put us in the best position possible to make plays.”
The Packers have a massive edge at quarterback against the Bears. But the Bears have a similar advantage with their pass rush. Along with Mack, Chicago has Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd, a pair of rushers who can get to the quarterback on their own.
Perry said he’s confident in his group.
“That depth thing,” Perry said, “it's nothing to us. We can handle the load, that's what we're here for. Just moving forward, we have what it takes to continue to push the envelope.
“At the end of the day, the big guys have got to kind of take the big load. That’s what they pay us for. I think as we move forward, we’ll get into a groove and rhythm of things.”