Bruised, battered and mediocre would be a few words to properly sum up the 2016 season for Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
Since suffering a hamstring injury early in the season and missing three games because of it, then spraining the AC joint in his left shoulder a week after returning, the hopes haven't been very high for the eighth-year linebacker heading into his ninth. His sub-optimal 2016 campaign proved as a minor setback for the wounded Matthews.
The hope heading into 2017 is that his minor setback will pave the way to a major comeback. The Packers could use it at the second level of their defense.
The narrative that Matthews is "soft," meanwhile, can be put to bed.
Dealing with an onslaught of injuries last season led to the untimely chagrin of fans across all social media platforms, who fail to realize that Matthews played through his sprained shoulder late in the season during the Packers' winning streak as well as into the playoffs. Original speculation was that Matthews' shoulder would require surgery at the end of the season. So far, that hasn't been the case.
Matthews may have even gotten a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery on the same play in the Wild Card game against the Giants.
It was the first injury-riddled regular season for Matthews since 2013 (when the entire roster was seemingly obliterated) when he fractured his thumb. He missed a month of the regular season with the thumb injury, returned and re-injured the same thumb. It led to Matthews missing five games that year. Initially, it was most absences in a season for Matthews until 2016 came around.
Matthews also dealt with a hamstring injury a year prior that kept him out for four games. He's only played a full 16-game season twice in his career - 2014 and 2015. Coincidentally, the only two years in which Matthews played inside linebacker for more than half of each season. He was inside full-time in 2015.
Many think the proper course to take with Matthews would be to swap him back inside during his veteran years; a place that one year ago, others would've been opposed to doing. Now, lacking speed and explosiveness off the edge at 30 years old, soon-to-be 31, decreasing the workload may help extend Matthews' career.
Of course, there are others who believe the best course of action is trading Matthews, which is a story for another day.
The packers need linebacker help more than ever, and if that means kicking Matthews inside to do the work on selected downs and pairing him with Jake Ryan, take that road. They won't get the same Matthews who racked up 23.5 sacks during his first two years in the league, but any form of pressure on the opposing quarterback can prove worthwhile.
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