Matthews Embraces New Leadership Role
by Mike Conklin
July 31, 2012
Eighteen months ago, the Packers were the newly crowned World Champions. And despite Clay Matthews' monster season and his game changing play in the Super Bowl he was, for lack of a better term, a bit of a goofball.
"He loves to play to the camera," said Aaron Rodgers in an interview after the Super Bowl. "He wants to say as much bizarre, crazy stuff as he can. I like to tease him about being Hollywood."
Chemistry is an important thing, and it's great to have a few fun-loving, crazy characters on the team. In his first few years, Matthews has played that role to perfection.
"I don't like to watch him in pregame, because I think it's absolutely ridiculous," Rodgers quipped, when asked about Matthews' hair dousing and flipping routine. And Rodgers wasn't alone in his assessment.
"He squirts that bottle, and swings (his hair) back...I don't know, I think it's his Fabio moment," added Charles Woodson.
Rodgers and Woodson are the unquestioned leaders of the team, and when they said these things they didn't act annoyed so much as amused.
"It's a good thing that he is as good as he is," said Rodgers with a smile, "because it's a little ridiculous."
"If he wasn't any good, he'd take a lot of heat for it," added Woodson. "But he's a heck of a player, so nobody gives him (a hard time) about it."
That was after Matthews' second year. Now, coming into the prime of his career, his role on the team is changing. On the field, he will be counted on to be a playmaker just as much as ever. But off the field and in the locker room, he is now becoming one of this perpetually young team's elder statesmen. He is aware of the mantle of responsibility. This was evident when he answered questions about his relationship with his new bookend outside linebacker, Nick Perry.
“We work in unison together, so obviously he needs to look to me to give him advice,” Matthews said. “We’re going to be working together on the field a lot, so I need to be a mentor towards him...I think that’s the natural progression of not only having the same position on the field, but me, as far as my maturation, going into my fourth year, and believing that I can be a leader.”
In the past, you could always expect Matthews to wreak havoc on the field. But when it came to mentoring young players, you would be more likely to see Kevin Greene tutoring the young linebackers while Matthews tended to his own business on the sideline, or even joked around with teammates. During training camp this year, when Matthews is on the sideline during the second string defense's reps, he is side-by-side with Nick Perry seemingly all the time. From afar, it looks like he is taking Perry under his wing and helping him learn as much as he can. He almost sounded like a proud teacher speaking about his favorite pupil when asked about Perry in a recent locker room interview.
"He's playing well. (He's a) big kid...strong, athletic. He's made some plays out there. I think he's going to be a real asset to this team. He needs to continue to learn and stay in his playbook, but as far as his willingness to learn he's been all about it. He's been hanging around with me, and I've been trying to impart a little wisdom on him. He's looking good."
Matthews spent several minutes talking with reporters last Saturday, and he was all business. He went about his first interview of the new season in a very workmanlike, professional manner. Undoubtedly he still has the same off-the-wall personality that has endeared him to his teammates, but it seems apparent that he is making a conscious effort to step into a leadership role. He did not shy away from speaking on behalf of the entire defense.
“We need to be better,” he said. “Obviously when you finish 32nd, that’s not acceptable, especially for the way in which we played the first two years Dom’s scheme. So we need to get better, we will get better, and I think the guys we brought in here, the attitude, the learning experience from last year, I think we will be better."
That sounds like a leader talking.
As much as he may evolve, at this point Clay Matthews has a reputation if not a brand to maintain, so the hair whipping routine is not likely to stop. But when it comes to stepping up and taking charge in meeting rooms and defensive huddles, it looks like Matthews may be embracing a new role. It is still early, but it appears that the defense may benefit as a result.
Photo Credit: Getty Images