Many Packers fans adore Clay Matthews. They love his energy, his post-sack theatrics and ability to make an offensive line melt.
But have we seen the best from the “Claymaker?”
The reason we have is because of the Bennett’s fracture. Matthews originally broke his thumb in Week 5 last year. And then in Week 16, he sacked Ben Roethlisberger but also rebroke the same right thumb.
He started 11 games last year — the lowest amount of his career. And that was coming off a season in which he started 12.
I realize he is saying all the right things. But he hasn’t done anything in OTAs and minicamp and in addition to his thumb problem, Matthews has had a relentless hamstring issue.
A thumb makes up about 50 percent of a hand’s function. How effective can Matthews possibly be if he has to wear a bulky club or even a brace? It’s not that easy for him to utilize his speed and quickness and offer up a swim move and a bull-rush will be a lot easier to block with a weaker thumb.
Matthews’s stats are amazing. He is averaging a sack 76 percent of the time when he starts. He made the Pro Bowl the first four years of his NFL career and he has also been a turnover machine with four picks and three fumble recoveries.
Yet, Matthews turned 28 in May. That isn’t old by any means, but it is a cause for concern for a guy that hasn’t started all 16 games of his five-year career. His body will not be able to keep resting injuries back to health like he once did. And I would be shocked if offensive linemen didn’t try to reinjure that right thumb at some point soon.
There are numerous examples of enlightenment after age 28. Michael Strahan set the single-season sack record at age 30 with 22½ and Jared Allen had the best season of his career at age 29 with 22 sacks. But none of those guys had an injury that had to be covered up just to play, while limiting effectiveness at the same time.
Matthews is one of the best defensive players the Packers have had in a long time. He only needs five more sacks to tie Tim Harris and move into third place in team history. When healthy, he is an instant problem for an entire offense by turning himself into a defensive bomb — blowing up even the most hopeful of offensive plays.
But of course, that’s the problem. Matthews hasn’t been 100 percent in a long time. He will play when he is close to ready, but he hasn’t been perfect in awhile. Which of course, only risks his future even more.
Matthews is a great player, which is why the Packers rewarded him with a five-year $66 million deal in the spring of 2013.
His heart is unquestioned. He has Sampson-like strength. But unfortunately, Matthews won’t be able to outrun and overpower recurring injuries.
In order for the Packers’ defense to break free of its mediocre chains, Matthews must play like its bell cow — which is why he was drafted 26th overall in 2009.
However, those days are in the rear view mirror.
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn