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Packers position preview: Is Clay Matthews an inside or outside linebacker?

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In advance of the Green Bay Packers' first training camp practice on Thursday, we break down each position group.

Next up, linebackers.

Returning players: Clay Matthews, Sam Barrington, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Carl Bradford, Jayrone Elliott, Nate Palmer (injured reserve last season), Andy Mulumba (injured reserve), Adrian Hubbard (practice squad last season), Joe Thomas (practice squad).

Gone from last season: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore.

New this season: Jake Ryan (fourth-round pick), Josh Francis (street free agent), James Vaughters (rookie free agent), Tavarus Dantzler (rookie free agent), Jamauria Rasco (rookie free agent).

Position coach: Winston Moss (ninth season).

Biggest issue: Coach Mike McCarthy doesn't see the need to label Matthews as an inside linebacker or an outside linebacker, which tells you he's probably going to play both just like he did in the second half of last season. "He's a great pass-rusher, and he's going to continue to play as many different positions as we could possibly get out of him," McCarthy said this offseason. "We need to utilize Clay as much as we can. He's a great player, and we need to give him as many opportunities as we can to make plays." At this point, it would seem Matthews is OK with that. After his initial reluctance to move from his natural outside linebacker spot, Matthews accepted the dual role and excelled in it. "Obviously, this spring we're putting a little more emphasis on me understanding the inside position, as you saw from the position drills and everything," Matthews said this offseason. "I know the outside. I still will continue to work with them. As you'll see, we'll be alternating inside and outside as far as rushing to stacking the box. But mentally I'm ready. Like I said, they're going to rush me from all over the field, they're going to drop me from all over the field, and I expect to do a multitude of things this year."

Player to watch: With all the focus on Matthews at inside linebacker, it would be easy to forget that Barrington played a significant role at that spot last season after the Packers decided to reduce snaps for Jones and Hawk midway through the season. When the Packers cut both this offseason, it was another sign that they like Barrington’s potential.

Medical report: Both Perry (shoulder) and Neal (undisclosed injury) sat out all of the offseason practices.

Help wanted: If McCarthy and Dom Capers decide they want to move Matthews back to the outside full time -- or at least the majority of the time -- it might be because they think Ryan can excel on the inside. That might not happen right away to start the season, but if Ryan develops like the Packers think he will, he might have a role on the defense before too long.

Quotable: "I've always said the more guys you have playing multiple positions, especially if they're as skilled as Clay is, that's something that your opponent is always wondering," Capers said this offseason. "Is he going to be inside? Is he going to be outside? If affects their game plan a lot."

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