Wiggins and Embiid are both capable of being game changers, but both come at a high risk. Parker and Randle are not as high upside IMHFUO, but that is not really a problem at the top of this draft. Still really good picks. Exum is a wild card IMHYAADAO, he might be the type of risk Giannis turned out to be. Vonleh is as close to a sure thing as I can see IMSTFUO, I see him being a solid contributor, occasional all star for his whole career. Smart will blow up, not in a good way. After that it doesn't matter.
This is a long interview. But some good bits in here. I think he's coming into 2014 with his hair on fire.
LOS ANGELES — If Clay Matthews is rushing the quarterback from one side of the Green Bay Packers defense and Julius Peppers from the other, who will opponents double team?
Matthews thinks he knows the answer — and it's not him, which would be a welcome change given the largely forgettable cast of pass rushers he has teamed with over the past five years.
"This guy's (6-7), 290. I'm 6-4 on a good day and 255," Matthews told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday night during a break from a commercial shoot at his alma mater, USC.
"They're going to double the big guy, and that leaves plenty of opportunities for me. I haven't had too many one-on-one opportunities, and when you do, you're expected to win — at least in our locker room — the majority of the time, because that's supposed to be a mismatch."
Matthews, 27, has 50 sacks through five NFL seasons. Peppers, 34, has 118½ sacks in 12 seasons, making him easily the most accomplished pass rusher Matthews has played with since Aaron Kampman blew out a knee back in 2009.
The plan is for Peppers to be a hybrid player in Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme, and that's fine with Matthews, who has no plans to ease back into action after a 2013 season disrupted and ultimately ended by two surgeries on his right thumb.
In an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Matthews also discussed his place in the record books, Kevin Greene's departure from the coaching staff, being excited about starting the offseason program next week and why nobody should compare his thumb injury to Brett Favre's.
Q: How's the thumb?
A: It's going well. I had surgery (Dec. 24), and I maybe got (the pins) out late January. Almost immediately, I pushed myself to get back in the gym. Obviously, I had to be smart. But it started with rigorous physical therapy three times a week, just because the way in which I injured it wasn't like a typical break. We had to treat it more like a soft tissue injury — like an ACL or something — because it required manipulating the tendon and drilling holes in bones and this and that. I asked my team doctor, 'When's the last time you've seen this injury in the NFL?' Couldn't name one. That's why when you deal with (people saying), 'Brett Favre played with a broken thumb.' My thumb was out here! There's no way he could even grip a ball! I have a good picture I can show anyone of my hand after surgery. It honestly looks like I got a shark attack.
Q: What are these three sets of stitches up your forearm?
A: It's called a tendon transfer. I broke it (the first time), and they did a closed-pin reduction. (The thumb) was dislocated, so they put it back in there. The bones line up, but it was a real small piece of the bone. So, everything was fine. I was coming out, I was working hard, and I was in a cast. And unfortunately, on a sack of (Ben) Roethlisberger (on Dec. 22), the tip of my thumb (hit) my teammate's helmet. All that pressure went down the cast, broke it again. So then, to make it tighter, we took part of the tendon, turned it around, drilled some holes and they almost tied a knot through. It's stronger than (the left one). Now it's super tight.
Q: If you hold your hands up, palms-out, do they look different?
A: Well, you wouldn't be able to tell. It's just very stiff. I'm only two months out, but I've been working out. It's definitely made a lot of progress. I don't know what the percentages are, but I think I'm at about 75, 80% of where it needs to be, because your dominant arm's supposed to be 10% stronger than, in my case, my left arm. It's getting there. By the time the season rolls around, it'll be fine. I'm optimistic about it. I mean, I've never heard of a career-ending thumb injury, but no one had heard of a Bennett's fracture when I had done that.
Q: How'd you feel you played in the games between the injuries?
A: Quite honestly, I clubbed it up, and I was just a number out there, because we didn't have enough people to suit up (against) Philly. By far my worst professional game, but there was a legitimate excuse. After that, I got into a thumb-spica cast and played the Giants. I had a sack. Obviously, it was still very difficult, because it was always like this — I was playing with one hand for seven games. But I still had 4½ sacks in seven games with one hand. I was like, 'If I can just get out of this cast, I'd be all right.'
Q: Did the medical staff ever tell you, like, 'This is a dumb idea to come back?'
A: No. In fact, the doctor — I even told him, 'Listen, there's no one to blame here, but I thought you said I wouldn't get hurt.' He's like, 'I thought so, too.' And I wasn't worrying about it unless I was playing football. It felt good. It felt like it did now. But it was a big hit. I came around, and it was, 'Whap!' All that pressure went up (the cast).
Q: It had to feel 10 times worse than the first one.
A: Physically, yes, and also emotionally more than anything, just knowing that the season was over for me. I'd have to have surgery again, which was very difficult in my dominant hand — showering, eating food, dressing, even traveling with the team, taking your clothes off, buttoning up your pants. It was just a pain. But it's getting better. I can work out and do everything I can with very little limitation.
Q: You guys must have the worst recent injury history in the NFL.
A: The Packers? Yeah. Aaron (Rodgers). Randall Cobb. James Jones was out. Eddie Lacy had a bad ankle for a while. Hey, we're just thankful we made (the playoffs). But we got healthy at the right time.
Q: Except you.
A: Except me. That's Optimistic Clay. We got healthy at the right time, and, of course, we just came up a little short in the playoffs. Especially with Aaron back in charge of the offense and a few guys coming back here and there, it looked like we were primed to make a run again. We should every year.
Q: Now you have an established pass rusher opposite you in Julius Peppers for the first time — probably in your entire career.
A: I'm excited about it. Most people are curious as to how they're going to use him in a 3-4 scheme, but I don't think it matters. I think you line him up on the field in a zero-, one-, three-, five-, seven-, nine-technique — he's going to get attention, and he's going to get double teams. It's going to create opportunities for one of us on the field to have our one-on-one matchups, and that's where that person needs to win. If you look at two guys on the field, you've got 52 (Matthews' jersey number) and 56 I think is his new number. ... Then you add Mike Daniels, (who) came off a very good second year. I think he had 6½ sacks and another one in the playoffs. Nick Perry was doing well (until) he had a freak accident where someone landed on his ankle and broke his heel bone. Mike Neal — I know we just re-upped him for another two years — he had a pretty good year. B.J. (Raji) coming back. He's got a one-year (contract) to showcase his talents again. So, I think we have a lot of pieces. It's about putting it together now. We'll see, but I'm excited about it, because it provides kind of a new spark and a new energy.
Q: It's an interesting time to be an NFC North pass rusher. Peppers goes from the Bears to the Packers. Jared Allen goes from the Vikings to the Bears.
A: I saw something on the Internet: 'Hey, is Clay coming to Minnesota?' No.
Q: You're five years into your career. How do you feel about your career so far and where do you see things going the next five years?
A: To say that I'd have this much success in the NFL is — I'd be lying to you if I said I saw myself there. I was probably naïve in thinking or a little ignorant in thinking of long-term goals. I was just trying to take it a day at a time. I guess that's what happened at SC. I figured when I got to SC, 'If I could get on some special teams, that'd be neat. If I can get some time at linebacker, that'd be even better.' Then it was, 'I think I deserve to be starting.' Then it was, 'If I can get drafted ... if I can go fourth, third, second (round) ... hey, I could slip into that first (round) and then ...' At that point, I think my overall drive and will (took over), and from being at the proverbial bottom as a walk-on to having a first-round opportunity is amazing. I never wanted to go back there. I still don't. I don't want to be the guy who gets replaced in the starting lineup. You'll get that same effort that I think people have grown accustomed to watching me out there. For (the next) five years, I expect to see myself here, but realistically, it's hard. Every year, I set this goal. Super Bowl championship, four Pro Bowls, two All-Pros, a league (defensive) MVP runner-up — it's pretty good. But the thing about this league that separates the guys who have Hall of Fame careers is, how long can you do it for? Five years is a good career, but I want to do this thing 10, 13 years.
Q: Do you start to look at the career numbers, sacks and stuff like that?
A: I've been looking at that since I was a rookie. In fact, I was pissed because last year we played in a playoff game, and I'm only a half-sack behind Reggie White for postseason (sacks) as a Packer. He's got eight. I've got 7½. I think KGB (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila) has (74½ sacks and I have 50 for my career right now, so I've got a ways to go. But I think Aaron Kampman has 54, so I can move up past him. I got lucky, because Reggie White only spent, what, eight years (in Green Bay)? So, we don't have a true guy who dominated here for a whole career. For me, all those goals are attainable. You can call it arrogant — I just call it confidence — but I know I'm going to make my plays when I'm out there. It's just about being healthy.
Q: So, you aim for the Packers' sack record, and then you start thinking top-10 all time, top-five, all-time?
A: Well, I think when you're at that (franchise) sack record, you get (75 and you think), '100 would be pretty cool.' Julius, (John) Abraham, DeMarcus (Ware) — you know who's up there. But I'll tell you what, I was coached by Kevin Greene for the last five years and he's at 160. That's a lot of sacks. You have to steal a 20-sack season in there somewhere, or else you have to play 16 seasons and get 10 sacks a year. I'm on five years, 50 sacks, but at the same time, it's hard.
Q: Did you see it coming that Kevin Greene was going to step away from coaching?
A: No, I didn't. Kevin takes the game so seriously. He's one of the few guys who I know who actually plays for the love of the game, and he believes in a team philosophy, a team goal. It's refreshing to see, because a lot of guys will climb the political ranks and they play that game — not to say that's with the Packers. But I think losing really just ate at him. He loved winning. He loved winning, and you can't fault him for it. I love winning, too. Like I tell my dad — he wants to get into coaching, too — those guys are there (at the team facility) longer than I am, and I can find myself complaining about how long I'm there. So, I understood (Greene's decision), and I was very thankful for the time I had with him. He taught me a lot. But I'm really also excited about moving forward with a new coach and hopefully picking up a few things here from a veteran guy like Peppers as well as now, with the inside linebackers, hopefully forming a cohesive group of working off one another — 'I zig, you zag' type of thing.
Q: The Packers ranked 25th in yards allowed and tied for 24th in points allowed last season. What's the level of confidence in your defensive coordinator, Dom Capers?
A: Everybody's excited about our defense and what we're capable of. The injuries and some shortcomings here and there — it's been our Achilles' heel for a few years now. But we've always led the league in one category. We'll lead the league in sacks but give up the most yards. We'll have the most turnovers, but have the most (of something else). We need to operate on all cylinders. When you have an offense with Aaron Rodgers and those guys over on that side who are going to score at minimum, at least 24 points a game — I'm being (conservative) — you expect your defense to take care of their end of the bargain.
Q: Do you personally come back a little ticked off after last season?
A: This year especially. It's funny, I've been telling people how for me personally, it was almost a week after the season, and I'm like, 'I'm ready to get back after it.' Most offseasons, I'm like, 'Ohhhh, I have to go back for the offseason program,' just because you get into a routine of your offseason working out. But for me personally, even when we've lost the last couple of years in the playoffs, there's always a conclusion to the season. And you're OK with that. You don't have to like it, but there's going to be 31 losers and one winner. You get that. So, I take about a month off to relax. But now, here I am — I'm champing at the bit to get back to work. I'm excited to get back to being healthy and get back to doing what I do, and that's make plays.
Q: Is there any doubt in your mind the injury's going to be a non-issue?
A: It's been getting better, so I have no doubt. Obviously, OTAs will probably be one thing. I can't imagine I'll be too heavily involved with some of the stuff. I'm sure I can do stuff here and there. But yeah, we risked it once, and unfortunately, it didn't pay off.
Q: But when training camp opens in late July, you're full-go?
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