Packers OLB Clay Matthews: ‘This team is destined for greatness’

Clay Matthews had quite a rookie season for the Packers, recording 10 sacks and 51 tackles. The first-round pick out of Southern Cal’s big debut earned him third place in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, won by former USC teammate Brian Cushing of the Texans.

Clay Matthews says he wants to be a leader on the Packers' defense.
Clay Matthews says he wants to be a leader on the Packers’ defense.

Matthews is now viewed as one of the cornerstones of the Packers’ defense. In a recent interview with Mark Kass of The Business Journal of Milwaukee, Matthews talked about his transition to the NFL, the Packers’ upside in 2010 and the dangers of being a public figure.

Q: How would you rate your first year in the NFL? Was it what you expected it to be?
A: I thought I did well. There is so much room for improvement. I know from the end of the season to where I am now, I know I’ve made even more improvement. You should feel that way each and every year, if you are working hard. I am looking forward to this upcoming season and even getting better. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities and know I can be a good player in this league.

Q: What was the hardest part of the transition from college to the NFL? Did you have a "Welcome to the NFL" moment?
A: It wasn’t that hard. It really is the level of talent. You are going against All-Pros each and every down. Everyone is good enough to make the league, so it really is a battle on every play. It is getting used to playing at that level and knowing that you can’t let down or you will get knocked down. I really didn’t have a "Welcome to the NFL" moment. I didn’t get smacked hard or anything like that. It really was my first sack when I said to myself, "I made it to the NFL, and I can play at this level."

Q: Were you disappointed that in the recent re-balloting for NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year you still came in third?
A: Honestly, that is so far behind me that I don’t have an opinion. Cushing won the award the first time, and fortunately he won it again. We finished in the same order, and that’s fine with me. It is what it is. I’m already looking ahead. Do they give out a sophomore defensive player of the year? That is what I’m aiming for now.

Q: The Packers made a successful transition to the 3-4 defensive scheme last year and had a strong season only to give up 51 points in the playoff lost at Arizona. What happened?
A: It was our first year, and we finished No. 2 overall (in total defense). Still, there were some games where we didn’t play our best. We are working on that by bringing in better players and working on our adjustments so we are ready for it next time. Overall, I thought we did a fantastic job for our first year but we have a lot of room to grow.

Q: How good can this defense be in ’10? Can the Packers go further in the playoffs?
A: I think we can be best in the league. We have a heck of a defense and a very strong team overall. This team is destined for greatness. We have a great group of guys, and hopefully we can put it all together. We are aiming for the playoffs and the Super Bowl. That is what every team should be shooting for, but we have a lot of confidence that we can continue to improve from last year and be a real force in this league.

Q: What are your goals for ’10? In what areas are you trying to improve your game?
A: Not only statistically do I want to improve upon my game from last year, but I want to become a leader of this defense. Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Nick Barnett have kind of become the faces of this defense, and I want to be an emerging star. When people talk about this defense, I want them to mention my name and my style of play. I want to lead by example and show people what I am able to accomplish.

Q: Recently, teammate Brandon Underwood was accused of sexual assault at a party after a celebrity golf tournament. Did you take away anything from that incident?
A: You never want to be portrayed poorly. It was an unfortunate incident and kind of stresses as to who you are with and what you have and the type of scenarios that you can get yourself into. It really is a reality check. Unfortunately, that one individual has to deal with it and we’ll see what happens.

Clay Matthews had quite a rookie season for the Packers, recording 10 sacks and 51 tackles. The first-round pick out of Southern Cal’s big debut earned him third place in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, won by former USC teammate Brian Cushing of the Texans.

Clay Matthews says he wants to be a leader on the Packers' defense.
Clay Matthews says he wants to be a leader on the Packers’ defense.

Matthews is now viewed as one of the cornerstones of the Packers’ defense. In a recent interview with Mark Kass of The Business Journal of Milwaukee, Matthews talked about his transition to the NFL, the Packers’ upside in 2010 and the dangers of being a public figure.

Q: How would you rate your first year in the NFL? Was it what you expected it to be?
A: I thought I did well. There is so much room for improvement. I know from the end of the season to where I am now, I know I’ve made even more improvement. You should feel that way each and every year, if you are working hard. I am looking forward to this upcoming season and even getting better. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities and know I can be a good player in this league.

Q: What was the hardest part of the transition from college to the NFL? Did you have a "Welcome to the NFL" moment?
A: It wasn’t that hard. It really is the level of talent. You are going against All-Pros each and every down. Everyone is good enough to make the league, so it really is a battle on every play. It is getting used to playing at that level and knowing that you can’t let down or you will get knocked down. I really didn’t have a "Welcome to the NFL" moment. I didn’t get smacked hard or anything like that. It really was my first sack when I said to myself, "I made it to the NFL, and I can play at this level."

Q: Were you disappointed that in the recent re-balloting for NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year you still came in third?
A: Honestly, that is so far behind me that I don’t have an opinion. Cushing won the award the first time, and fortunately he won it again. We finished in the same order, and that’s fine with me. It is what it is. I’m already looking ahead. Do they give out a sophomore defensive player of the year? That is what I’m aiming for now.

Q: The Packers made a successful transition to the 3-4 defensive scheme last year and had a strong season only to give up 51 points in the playoff lost at Arizona. What happened?
A: It was our first year, and we finished No. 2 overall (in total defense). Still, there were some games where we didn’t play our best. We are working on that by bringing in better players and working on our adjustments so we are ready for it next time. Overall, I thought we did a fantastic job for our first year but we have a lot of room to grow.

Q: How good can this defense be in ’10? Can the Packers go further in the playoffs?
A: I think we can be best in the league. We have a heck of a defense and a very strong team overall. This team is destined for greatness. We have a great group of guys, and hopefully we can put it all together. We are aiming for the playoffs and the Super Bowl. That is what every team should be shooting for, but we have a lot of confidence that we can continue to improve from last year and be a real force in this league.

Q: What are your goals for ’10? In what areas are you trying to improve your game?
A: Not only statistically do I want to improve upon my game from last year, but I want to become a leader of this defense. Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Nick Barnett have kind of become the faces of this defense, and I want to be an emerging star. When people talk about this defense, I want them to mention my name and my style of play. I want to lead by example and show people what I am able to accomplish.

Q: Recently, teammate Brandon Underwood was accused of sexual assault at a party after a celebrity golf tournament. Did you take away anything from that incident?
A: You never want to be portrayed poorly. It was an unfortunate incident and kind of stresses as to who you are with and what you have and the type of scenarios that you can get yourself into. It really is a reality check. Unfortunately, that one individual has to deal with it and we’ll see what happens.

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