GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews should be happy about this: The Green Bay Packers want to move him back to outside linebacker next season.
While Matthews dutifully accepted the move to inside linebacker midway through the 2014 season, his first love was -- and still is -- rushing the passer. Matthews should get more opportunities to do so again next season if all goes according to coach Mike McCarthy’s plan.
McCarthy said his goal is to play Matthews primarily at outside linebacker in 2016.
“We’re obviously a lot better with him playing the outside position,” McCarthy said Monday during his season wrap-up press conference. “He’s an outside linebacker, and we need to get back to him playing there.”
In order to do that, the Packers might have to make it an offseason priority to acquire another starting-caliber inside linebacker. When general manager Ted Thompson did not address that position until the fourth round of last year’s draft, when he took Jake Ryan, it ensured Matthews would play mostly inside again. Ryan became a starter midway through the season, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers might need another new starter to pair with Ryan unless he's convinced Ryan and Sam Barrington (who played in just one game this season before he broke his foot) can handle things.
“Well, there will be a lot of variables going into that: Who we have, who’s going to be available and all those kinds of things,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday. “I thought Clay did an outstanding job for us, moving in there and playing full-time. You’ve seen us in past situations where he moves up and he was rushing inside a lot in this [last] game. I like the combination of Julius [Peppers] and Clay matching up inside because I think you have two athletic guys going against lesser pass protectors inside. We’ve gotten some real good pressure out of those situations.
“I think Clay is a guy as we move forward hopefully we can move around and take advantage of his ability to make plays. Who knows right now? We didn’t know last year how the offseason would go. What our job will be is whoever we end up with is finding a way to get the best guys on the field.”
Matthews played only 37.1 percent of his snaps at outside linebacker this season, and he posted just 6.5 sacks (the second-lowest total of his career) in the regular season. He added another 1.5 in the playoffs. In his first five NFL seasons, he played 92.7 percent of his snaps at outside linebacker, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and had four double-digit sack seasons.
It could be a sign the Packers plan to part ways with outside linebackers Mike Neal and Nick Perry. Both are scheduled to be free agents this offseason. Also, Julius Peppers, who turned 36 on Monday, has only one more year left his contract.
McCarthy said Matthews could still play some on the inside but not anywhere near as often as he did in the last year and a half.
“I think it shows the type of player Clay is just as far as the type of teammate he is to go inside and to play as much as he did, really full-time there,” McCarthy said. “The matchup part of it was really always my goal. There’s things specifically that he does from that position that we’ll continue to do because he’s a great weapon. He’s so disruptive. It gives you obviously an opportunity to match him up against offensive personnel from that location.”