June 20, 2008

Matthews hopes to bring versatility

The term oxymoron gets thrown around in English classes in junior high schools, and it's getting practical use on the Trojan practice fields.

Clay Matthews Jr. is an elephant - more specifically, he's playing the hybrid position on the Trojan defense that's anything but slow and deliberate.

Matthews is spending time during summer workouts rotating between defensive end and linebacker in an effort to give the USC defense more versatility.

"The idea behind is to move a faster, bigger guy to defensive end to bring more speed coming off the edge," he said. "It'll give us faster stunts and just provide more speed on the field.

"That's what I hope to accomplish."

The move to elephant has Matthews moving between the two groups in workouts, learning new techniques while polishing up the old.

"They've definitely got me working. I'm switching between defensive line and linebacker," Matthews said. "There are some techniques I need to work on at defensive end, dealing with cut blocks and getting around the horn. With linebacker, I still have to work on my get-offs, hitting the holes and dropping into pass coverage.

"It's pretty much the same, but I actually have more freedom coming off the edge. I'm really enjoying it."

However, he is getting to spend his time getting used to a brand new group of teammates.

"We're all friends on the team, but with the linebackers, I got to know each of them really well because you're always with them," he said. "Now, I've got to get used to spending time with the d-line, but because we're all friends, it's nothing that new to me.

"It's fun moving around, being a jack-of-all-trades."

Matthews spent time as a back-up strongside linebacker, and he said the principles are carrying over to his new role.

"It's all the same thing as playing Sam linebacker," he said. "Sam's mainly working on the edge, holding things down on the edge. Defensive ends work hard to come off the edge. It's been a very smooth transition for me.

"I've got a good handle on every thing, so I'm ready to make an impact come fall camp again."

Matthews is hoping to carry momentum over from a productive spring into summer workouts, hoping to get his game where it needs to be before the newest batch of Trojans hits campus.

"Going into spring, it's really the veterans time to shine because come fall camp, that's when Coach (Pete) Carroll gives the freshman a chance to show who they are and what they're about," Matthews said. "It's very important I carry momentum over from spring ball into training and training into fall camp and so on.

"You want to be working hard and doing the right things so you can be a role model for the younger guys."

Thanks to a revised workout this summer from strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle, Matthews said he's feeling better about his game.

"The program Coach Carlisle is using has us doing a lot of new stretching," Matthews said. "We're spending a good 15 or 20 minutes getting the bands out here, making sure we stretch muscles we don't usually do.

"We're really working hard on becoming more dynamic, stronger and faster."

And, like Taylor Mays and some of the toughest Trojans, he's getting that work done in the hot afternoon sun.

"We're calling ourselves one o'clock warriors because it's so dang hot out here. Everyone's working hard, but we like to think we're working just a little bit harder," Matthews said. "It's hotter and there are less people out here; it's a lot easier to get called out. In the weight room, everyone's watching you."

With all eyes on him to handle a fuller plate, Matthews is hoping to make a big, elephant-like impact on the Trojans' success this season.

"It's a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Like I said, it's a chance to contribute in more than one way."

"Now I can play and contribute three different ways- at defensive end and linebacker and on special teams."

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