Clay Matthews: 'I don't worry about the critics'

AP Images/Mike Roemer

Be honest, when Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and coordinator Dom Capers told you last year that they wanted you to play inside linebacker, how reluctant were you?

Clay Matthews: When we made the switch, I was very reluctant at the time. When they asked me to make the change, I thought it was simply lining up in the middle, doing a few things here and there. But it wasn't until I went to position meetings that I realized I was learning the entirety of the defense. At that point, I figured I was in over my head. With having the success at outside linebacker for 5 1/2 years, I was a little hesitant making the switch. All that being said, after a week's worth of football at middle linebacker -- a crash course really -- and heading out not just for any game, but a prime-time game on Sunday night against the Bears, I didn't know what to expect. That's kind of where I was leading up to that first time we put it on display.

How did you pick it up so fast?

Matthews: I'm a student of the game, and I know what other people are doing around me. So the transition, although I did have to learn on the fly, first and foremost I consider myself an athlete and I take pride in what I do -- whether it's playing on the outside or playing on the inside – and I didn't want to have a drop-off in my game or the defense's game. I just built off one day and worked towards another and we got to that first game and fortunately we were able to put ourselves in advantageous position to play against the pass a lot. Dropping into coverage isn't the most difficult thing, and I think I have a pretty firm grasp of whatever is they ask. As far as playing the run, you start learning where our D-linemen are going to fit, the guys who are going to take chances, playing off your other inside linebacker and the DBs, so really I just kept learning.

I think this offseason was really important for me because now I understand why I'm doing certain things. Last year was much like when I was a rookie playing outside linebacker. I was doing as I was told, and I figured things out on the go. Now to see all the pieces moving together and I have a better understanding of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. It makes you see the bigger picture.

What's your expectations for this season in terms of where you will line up? And how much freedom do you think you'll be given to move around?

Matthews: I think the freedom will remain the same. I think they understand that I have a unique skill set and that I can probably get away with a few things much like I do on the outside. If you're going to do those things, you better make the play. I'm assuming, and this is all up to seeing how things play out, but it will probably be very similar to last year. When we have a lead, I think they're going to let their best pass-rushers rush the passer. If a team is trying to run on us, I think they want their best run-stoppers in the middle. I'll be ready for whatever they ask. Obviously I enjoy making big plays and I think now this presents some problems for the opposition in that you can't just line up one guy on one side or the other. Now you're rushing against centers, guards, tackles, tight ends as well as dropping into coverage. Hopefully the plan is to make offensive coordinators think.

How hard was it for you to be on the sidelines in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game?

Matthews: It was difficult. You obviously want to be out there, but I had to do what was in the best interests of my body at that point. It is what it is. I always like to think I can have a hand in determining the outcome of games, and to see that lead fall when you're on the sideline, it doesn't feel good. But it's part of the game. Guys get injured, and they bounce back.

What happened?

Matthews: It wasn't one play. It was a while ago, but it was a bunch of things catching up to me. That's what I've said since the game. It was a bunch of little things. It was knee. It was hip. I took that hit on the sack in which I had. I had a big hit on the tight end coming across the middle. It was a bunch of little stuff and that point, I didn't feel confident putting myself out there. I had to do what's in the best interests of not only the team, but I've got to take care of No. 1.

What do you say to those who were critical of you for not being on the field at that time in a game of that magnitude?

Matthews: I don't worry about the critics because they're the same ones who were on your side when you're doing well. We all know what happened in that game. Everybody knows what I bring to the field, and I'd have been out there if I could. I felt at that point I wasn't ready to go out there.