Big plans for Clay Matthews, Packers LBs

GREEN BAY, Wis. – There are formations and schemes that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy does not want anyone – especially not the Seattle Seahawks – to know about.

Some of the tactics defensive coordinator Dom Capers has concocted won't be worked on until the Packers get behind the closed doors for the handful of training-camp practices that are not open to the public.

And the ones that they do practice in front of the public eye, they have asked their credentialed media to discuss vaguely.

One thing is clear after seeing the first practice of training camp on Saturday: The Packers are not short on linebackers and appear prepared to use plenty of them in a variety of ways.

That, of course, includes four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who practiced Saturday for the first time since he broke his thumb for a second time last season on Dec. 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was Matthews, with a small brace on his right hand, on the field for the first time with new teammate Julius Peppers. And put it this way: Matthews was not just lined up on one side of the defense with Peppers on the other for every snap.

It's not the first time Matthews has lined up in a variety of spots – on the left, on the right and even in the middle. But it could be even more prevalent this season, beginning with the marquee season opener in Seattle against the defending Super Bowl champs on Sept. 4.

"As you guys saw today, they definitely had me moving around from lining up in the middle of the field as a stack backer to the left, to the right, lining up in the slot, and just putting more of our playmakers on the field," said Matthews, who sat out all of the offseason practices to allow his thumb to heal.

"I think the problem that it presents for the offense is so many moving pieces. It allows me to use a multitude of my weapons and not just lining up in one spot rushing the passer. I think I bring a multitude of weapons to the game, and I think I could do that through lining up all over the field. I think it's about mismatches and putting us in advantageous positions. We'll see how that does moving forward, but I felt good about it today and hopefully it will only get better moving forward."

The addition of Peppers in free agency is perhaps the key to giving Matthews more freedom. In the 34-year-old Peppers, the Packers finally have an established pass rusher to complement Matthews. Sure, there were times on Saturday when Capers simply put Matthews at left outside linebacker, Peppers at right outside linebacker and played a base 3-4 defense, but there were other times when there were more linebackers at a wider variety of positions than normal.

"It definitely helps," Matthews said of adding Peppers to the defense. "I think we're all about taking advantage of mismatches, but any time you could add someone of Peppers' caliber to the line, who gets after the quarterback and has a proven sack record, it definitely helps. At the same time, the same is expected of me no matter where I'm at in the line, whether it's left, right, in the middle. So I'll be expected to handle my plays accordingly as well as him."

And Capers might do even more when Mike Neal and Nick Perry join practice. The pair of outside linebackers, who combined to play more than 1,100 snaps last season, began camp on the physically unable to perform list. According to McCarthy, Neal has a core muscle injury and Perry is still bothered by the foot and knee problems that limited him last season. Both, he said, are close to returning.

Just don't expect to find out too many specifics of what McCarthy and Capers have planned.

At least not until Sept. 4 at Seattle.

"Obviously, we're not going to shut down and practice behind closed doors all the time," McCarthy said. "There's things you live with, and we have the traditionally two practices we lock in on certain things we've always worked on in closed practices. We closed two other practices this year really because we're going to a new format of a shortened practice, and I want to get the team acclimated."