Clay Matthews' return to OLB likely means end of signal-calling duty

GREEN BAY, Wis. – As an inside linebacker, Clay Matthews became the Green Bay Packers’ signal-caller on defense last season.

Now that Matthews is moving back to his traditional outside linebacker spot, it could be difficult for him to continue in that role. It might be the thing he’ll miss most about playing in the middle of the defense rather than on the edge.

“I told him my intent was to move him back outside, and he was all for it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week at the NFL annual meetings. “But he didn’t want to get rid of some of the things he did inside because it gave him playmaking opportunities.

“The one thing that came out of the conversation was he really liked calling the defenses because it put him in a different mindset. He was a lot more active mentally into what was being called, the pre-snap keys and things. Playing inside, you obviously see more there than from the back side or the front side on the edge.”

McCarthy wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Matthews could still be the lone defensive player who has the one-way, coach-to-player communication device in his helmet this season, but it would seem unlikely. Typically, the signal-caller never comes off the field. Not that the Packers want to limit Matthews’ snaps, but as an outside pass-rusher he’s more likely to need breaks during the game.

“I mentioned that to him,” McCarthy said. “You’d like to keep it the other way because with the pass-rush responsibility, he might come out in the middle of a series so ideally you want it to be your three-down linebacker that calls it or your three-down safety that calls it.”

Safety Morgan Burnett has tried it in the past but admitted he had trouble finding his comfort zone. The other safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is entering only his third NFL season and might not be experienced enough.

There’s one change to the communication system this year. The league now allows play-callers who sit in the coaches box, like Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers does, to speak directly into the signal-caller’s helmet. In the past, coaches upstairs could communicate only with someone on the sideline (in the Packers’ case it was linebackers coach Winston Moss), who then had to relay the call to the field.

“I’ll tell you what, with the communication to the player headset being able to do it in the box, that will definitely help,” McCarthy said. “Dom will be able to call it right in. Our communication network we changed last year because it needed to get better, so we improve that. This now gives us a chance to improve it even more. We’re just doing some things differently. I don’t want to get into the more personnel and schemes.”

As for more specifics on Matthews’ role, McCarthy indicated that his days of playing inside linebacker aren’t over completely.

“I think you have to establish a starting point, and his starting point will be outside linebacker,” McCarthy said. “But we still have to move him around. He’s a targeting issue for the offense and we can’t or we will not waste the experience that he’s gained going inside. It’s made him a lot more in tune and impact in our defense playing the inside, calling the defenses, so there’s a lot positive experiences that have occurred the last two years with him playing inside. So we still need to take advantage of certain looks and certain things, but his starting point will be outside linebacker.”