GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews is certain that he’ll be ready for training camp when it opens in late July, but the Green Bay Packers four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker says he’ll ease his way back into action after twice breaking his right thumb last season, resulting in a pair of surgeries.
In an interview with USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, Matthews said his second surgery, which occurred on Dec. 24, was complicated because the re-injury of the thumb – initially broken on Oct. 6 against Detroit and re-broken on Dec. 22 against Pittsburgh – was unusual.
“It wasn't like a typical break. We had to treat it more like a soft tissue injury — like an ACL or something — because it required manipulating the tendon and drilling holes in bones and this and that,” said Matthews, adding that he underwent rigorous physical therapy three times a week following that second surgery. “I asked my team doctor, 'When's the last time you've seen this injury in the NFL?' (He) couldn't name one.
“That's why when you deal with (people saying), 'Brett Favre played with a broken thumb.' My thumb was out here! There's no way he could even grip a ball! I have a good picture I can show anyone of my hand after surgery. It honestly looks like I got a shark attack.”
Matthews told Pelissero that underwent a “closed-pin reduction” after the thumb was fractured and dislocated the first time, then had a “tendon transfer” surgery the second time. Matthews said the second surgery was to make the thumb “tighter.”
“We took part of the tendon, turned it around, drilled some holes and they almost tied a knot through. It's stronger than (the left one). Now it's super tight,” Matthews said. “It's just very stiff. I'm only two months out, but I've been working out. It's definitely made a lot of progress. I don't know what the percentages are, but I think I'm at about 75, 80% of where it needs to be.
“By the time the season rolls around, it'll be fine. I'm optimistic about it. I mean, I've never heard of a career-ending thumb injury, but no one had heard of a Bennett's fracture when I had done that.”
Asked if the team’s medical staff had warned him not to come back from the initial break, Matthews said no. And while the physical pain of the reinjury was bad, that was only half of it for Matthews.
“Emotionally more than anything, just knowing that the season was over for me,” he said. “I'd have to have surgery again, which was very difficult in my dominant hand — showering, eating food, dressing, even traveling with the team, taking your clothes off, buttoning up your pants. It was just a pain. But it's getting better. I can work out and do everything I can with very little limitation.”
Asked what he expects his timeline to be for full medical clearance, Matthews said he doesn’t expect to do much at the upcoming organized team activity practices next month.
“I can't imagine I'll be too heavily involved with some of the stuff,” Matthews said. “I'm sure I can do stuff here and there. But yeah, we risked it once, and unfortunately, it didn't pay off.”
GREEN BAY – While it’s unclear whether or not Graham Harrell’s quarterbacking career is officially over, the ex-Green Bay Packers backup is at least prepping for life after the NFL.
According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Harrell has joined the Washington State coaching staff under head coach Mike Leach, his coach at Texas Tech when Harrell was breaking a plethora of NCAA passing records.
Because Washington State already has nine assistant coaches, the maximum allowed by the NCAA, Harrell will likely serve in an operations capacity, possibly as an “offensive quality control,” according to the Spokesman-Review. The school has yet to announce his hiring.
Harrell, 28, finished his college career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (134) and completions (1,403) and second in passing yards (15,793) while playing for Leach.
It’s hard not to view Harrell’s move into coaching as evidence that other NFL teams don’t see him as a viable backup quarterback. After splitting time between the practice squad and the 53-man roster in 2010 and 2011 as the No. 3 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn, Harrell ascended to the No. 2 job after Flynn’s free-agent departure in 2012, even though he’d never thrown an NFL regular-season pass. The lone time that season he was pressed into action, when Rodgers was poked in the eye against New Orleans, he fumbled a handoff to Cedric Benson at the goal line that cost the Packers a scoring opportunity.
Last year, the Packers opted to let Harrell and B.J. Coleman go through their offseason program as the two quarterbacks behind Rodgers, but Harrell was released on Aug. 24 after the Packers decided to give Vince Young every chance to make the roster.
As it turned out, the Packers wound up cutting not only Harrell but Young and Coleman, too, winding up with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien behind Rodgers when he suffered his fractured left collarbone Nov. 4. The Packers re-signed Flynn on Nov. 12, after Wallace suffered a season-ending groin injury that required surgery, and Flynn wound up going 2-2-1 in the five games he played.
Harrell, meanwhile, briefly caught on with the New York Jets after the Packers cut him, when the Jets were beset by quarterback injuries. He was then cut when the team signed Brady Quinn and the other quarterbacks returned to health. Harrell spent the rest of the year out of football.
GREEN BAY – Matt Flynn never worked out for the New York Giants Tuesday, but evidently the Giants’ reported interest was enough to get the Green Bay Packers to act.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and FOX Sports’ Mike Garafolo all reported that Flynn and the Packers had reached an agreement Tuesday, and an NFL source confirmed those reports. Terms were not immediately available.
Flynn and Josh Freeman had been scheduled to work out for the Giants, a team that would have made some sense for Flynn given that ex-Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo is now the team’s offensive coordinator.
But returning to the Packers, whom he led to a pair of one-point victories and a season-saving tie to keep them in contention until starter Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone finally had healed enough for him to return, simply made more sense.
In an interview before the Packers’ regular-season finale against Chicago – when Rodgers returned and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to send the 8-7-1 Packers to the playoffs – Flynn admitted that while he held out hope of getting another chance to start in the NFL, returning to Green Bay as Rodgers’ backup also appealed to him.
“That’s a good question. It’s something I’ve tried to not think about. I’ve had a big job on my hands the past couple weeks,” Flynn said when asked what he wanted to do in 2014. “I’m happy to be here right now. There’s always going to be – I don’t know how I’m going to feel in a couple months – but I know there’s definitely going to be a part of me that would love to stay here. It’s comfortable, and I love it here. There’s definitely going to be some soul searching that I’ll have to do after the season.”
Flynn, a seventh-round pick from LSU in 2008 who was Rodgers’ primary backup from 2008 through 2011 before signing with Seattle as an undrafted free agent, spent time with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo before the desperate Packers signed him on Nov. 12 after Buffalo released him. He wound up going 2-2-1 in the five games he played, including in relief of Scott Tolzien in that Nov. 24 tie with Minnesota. His success with his former team rekindled his passion for football, which had waned after losing out to Russell Wilson in Seattle and being cut after only one start in Oakland.
“There were some periods of time that really tested my love for the game. And it’s been a blast being here,” Flynn said at the end of the season. “We’ve always treaded that line of, not goofing around, but enjoying work. But it always seems to be that we can enjoy work but then get down to business. I think Aaron’s the leader of that. He likes to goof around with the best of them.
“I’m proud of the body of work and the things that we were able to accomplish, and personally that I was able to accomplish. I was proud of the things that I did, and the team did. It’s been a fun couple weeks, a fun ride. I’m soaking up every moment.”
Flynn will still have to beat out Tolzien for the No. 2 job in training camp, as coach Mike McCarthy said last month at the NFL Meetings that while he wanted Flynn back, there would be competition.
"Do I like Matt Flynn in the quarterback room? Absolutely. Not only Matt as a player, but there’s value he has. He’s been there, he’s got experience, his relationship with Aaron. He carries a lot of value. That’s added value," McCarthy said. "But also you have to continue to improve. How do you improve? Competition."
GREEN BAY – Mark Murphy’s spring ritual regarding Brett Favre is always the same: Be asked about the iconic quarterback at the NFL Meetings, be asked about him again at the kickoff of the annual Tailgate Tour.
And so it was that the Green Bay Packers president was asked about Favre again Tuesday as he and a half-dozen current and former players departed Lambeau Field for their five-day trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Except this time, unlike his conversation with reporters last month at The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes resort in Orlando, Fla., Murphy actually delivered quite the news nugget to reporters before boarding the team bus:
The organization tried to bring Favre back to Lambeau Field for a game last season, but Favre, now the offensive coordinator for Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., couldn’t leave his team while it was on a winning streak.
“It’s kind of the same. There’s not a lot to report,” Murphy told reporters. “We do have ongoing communications with him and I think relations are good. We’re hopeful to have him come back soon.
“We wanted to have him come back to a game last year, (but) his team kept winning and winning, so it kind of made of made it tough to find a time where it worked.”
Favre helped Oak Grove to the Mississippi Class 6A state championship last season, the school’s first state title. He apparently has decided not to return for another season, however.
That would seem to indicate the odds are good that Favre will make his Lambeau return in 2014. The NFL has not yet announced the 2014 regular-season schedule.
At the NFL Meetings, Murphy reaffirmed that the club would retire Favre’s No. 4 before the quarterback enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, presumably on the first ballot in 2016. It’s also possible that the Packers could bring him back to Lambeau for a game, then bring him back for a subsequent game for the number retirement.
At the NFL Meetings, Murphy said he believed – based on his conversations with Favre – that Favre is looking forward to returning to Green Bay, where he was the Packers’ quarterback from 1992 through 2007 before being traded to the New York Jets in 2008 and returning as a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 and 2010.
“[I’ve been talking] directly with him. Texting, but some conversations,” Murphy said last month. “I think he’s excited to come back. It’s really just kind of working out the timing.”
GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy said last month that he wanted Matt Flynn on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. Now, the team could lose their urestricted free-agent No. 2 quarterback to the New York Giants, who are bringing Flynn in for a visit Monday and workout Tuesday.
NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones reported Monday morning that the Giants are bringing in both Flynn and ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Josh Freeman for visits as they work on contingency plans following starting quarterback Eli Manning’s ankle surgery. Manning is expected to make a full recovery, but evidently the Giants want veteran options in addition to 2013 fourth-round pick Ryan Nassib and journeyman Curtis Painter. ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano also reported last week that the Giants have had internal conversations about Manning possibly being in decline after leading his team to a pair of Super Bowl titles.
Flynn became the Packers’ fourth starting quarterback of the season last year in the wake of Aaron Rodgers’ fractured collarbone, and he was by far the team’s most successful fill-in. The Packers went 2-2-1 in the five games in which Flynn played after signing on Nov. 12, and he completed 102 of 166 passes (61.4 percent) for 1,146 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 86.1.
Flynn played poorly in a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Detroit Lions but engineered fourth-quarter comebacks in the tie with the Vikings, in victories over Atlanta and Dallas and in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale at Chicago, which the Packers won to earn the NFC North title and a playoff berth at 8-7-1.
During a lunch meeting with Packers beat reporters at the NFL Meetings, McCarthy said of Flynn: ““Do I like Matt Flynn in the quarterback room? Absolutely. Not only Matt as a player, but there’s value he has: He’s been there, he’s got experience, his relationship with Aaron. He carries a lot of value. That’s added value. But also you have to continue to improve. How do you improve? Competition.”
If the Packers re-signed Flynn, he’d compete with Scott Tolzien, who flashed potential before being benched in favor of Flynn against Minnesota on Nov. 24, when Flynn rallied the Packers to a 24-24 tie.
“I’d like to have Matt back,” McCarthy said during the NFC Coaches Breakfast at the NFL Meetings. “The way the whole thing fits together and some of the contracts that have been done to date obviously factor the way you move forward into each and every situation. I thought Matt was a good addition to our football team. I have great respect and admiration for him, just being around him a lot on a positional basis. Yeah, I’m hoping financially it works out.”
If Flynn were to sign with the Giants, he would be reunited with ex-Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, who left the Packers after the season to become the Giants’ offensive coordinator.
It’s not clear what Flynn, who left the Packers as an unrestricted free agent following the 2011 season for a three-year, $19 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks that included $10 million in guaranteed money, is seeking financially. But despite his solid play in Rodgers’ stead last season, it’s hard to imagine he’d command more than $1 million per year.
GREEN BAY – With No. 90 already spoken for and No. 49 evidently not an option because of NFL uniform rules, the Green Bay Packers’ biggest offseason acquisition finally has a jersey number.
Julius Peppers will wear No. 56 next season, the Packers announced Monday.
Peppers, who signed with the Packers on March 15, has not yet spoken with reporters who regularly cover the Packers, so it’s unclear what significance No. 56 holds to him, if any. But the number is significant in one way: It means that Peppers, whom coach Mike McCarthy said would play the “elephant” position, will officially be a linebacker, at least numerically.
The Packers’ official roster has him as a linebacker/defensive end, but according to NFL uniform number rules, linebackers may wear numbers between 50 and 59 and 90 and 99, while defensive linemen may wear numbers between 60 and 79 and 90 and 99.
Peppers wore No. 90 with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears, but that number belongs to B.J. Raji, who accepted a one-year deal to return to the Packers one day before Peppers’ signing.
He wore No. 49 in college at North Carolina, and while that number is available with previous holder Robert Francois a free agent, NFL rules only allow running backs and defensive backs to wear numbers between 20 and 49. (Francois had been allowed to wear No. 49 because all the linebacker numbers had already been taken when he signed.)
Among the players who’ve worn No. 56 in the past for the Packers are Terrell Manning, Nick Barnett, Hardy Nickerson, Kivuusama Mays, Lamont Hollinquest, Burnell Dent, Ed O'Neill and Ted Hendricks.
The Packers' other offseason acquisition, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, will wear No. 98. That number became available when C.J. Wilson signed as a free aegnt with Oakland.
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers will open preseason play with back-to-back road games before playing their final two exhibition contests at the friendly confines of Lambeau Field.
The Packers will play at Tennessee in Week 1 of the preseason and at St. Louis in Week 2, although exact dates are not yet set. Their game against the Titans will be sometime between Aug. 7 and 10, and their game against the Rams will be between Aug. 14 and 18.
The Packers will then play host to the Oakland Raiders on Friday, Aug. 22 in a nationally televised game on CBS, and they’ll close the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs at home on Thursday, Aug. 28.
The Raiders game, much like last year’s third preseason game against Seattle, will fall on the opening Friday of high-school football season.
The Packers and Titans will renew acquaintances after playing in the preseason for eight straight years (2002 through 2009). The Packers and Rams faced each other at the Edward Jones Dome last year as well.
The final two preseason games will pit the Packers against the teams of two former personnel executives – Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie and Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey.
Among the ex-Packers on the Raiders’ roster are wide receiver James Jones, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal with them last month; safety Charles Woodson and defensive end C.J. Wilson, who signed with the Raiders last week. Among the ex-Packers on the Chiefs’ roster are safety Jerron McMillian and outside linebackers Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo.
This marks the fifth straight year that the Packers have faced the Chiefs in the preseason finale.
For the third straight year, the Packers will not play any of their preseason opponents during the regular season.
The league is expected to release the regular-season schedule later this month.
GREEN BAY – The NFL is moving the Pro Bowl stateside again.
The league announced Wednesday that this season’s Pro Bowl, to be played on Jan. 25, 2015, will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX, instead of at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In February, the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty reported the NFL’s plans to make the move, saying the league saw it as a way to raise the interest in and revenue generated by the game.
A week later on Sunday, Feb. 1, the Super Bowl will be played.
The league said the Pro Bowl following the 2015 season will return to Aloha Stadium in Hawaii on Sunday, January 31, 2016.
The NFL has an agreement with the State of Hawaii to play the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium following the 2016 season but final confirmation of the game will be made at a later date, the league said in a news release.
This season’s Pro Bowl will be the third to be played in the same city as the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Coliseum hosted the first Super Bowl on January 15, 1967 and the Pro Bowl the following week. South Florida hosted the Pro Bowl in 2010 a week before Super Bowl XLIV.
Five years ago, the NFL moved the Pro Bowl to the Sunday before the Super Bowl – as opposed to the Sunday after it – in hopes of increasing interest in the struggling game.
GREEN BAY – As coach Mike McCarthy promised at the NFL Meetings last week, the Green Bay Packers will begin their offseason program on Tuesday, April 22.
And if you’re hoping to get a look at the full squad sometime before training camp, your best bet will be during the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp, June 17-19. (Be careful, though, as McCarthy has historically only practiced his players on two of those three days, skipping one day of practice in favor of a team-building event such as skeet shooting or dodgeball.)
Those dates became official Thursday, when the NFL announced the offseason schedules of all 32 teams.
Speaking at the NFC Coaches Breakfast at The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes resort last week, McCarthy said the Packers will start their offseason one day later than they are permitted to because of the Easter holiday on April 20.
“I don't want them traveling on Easter so they're going to travel Monday after Easter,” McCarthy said. “(The) 22nd will be physicals, we'll have our medical [evaluations] and our meetings and functional movement screenings Tuesday. Then we'll do meetings and workouts on Wednesday. We're going to work ‘em Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday that week.”
In accordance with NFL rules set forth by the collective bargaining agreement, the first six weeks of the program will be strength and conditioning work only.
Organized team activity practices will be held May 28, 29 and 30; June 3, 4 and 5; and June 10, 11, 12 13. Typically, the Packers open one workout per week to the public, weather permitting. The dates of open-to-the-public (and media) practices should be announced by the team at a later date.
After the minicamp, the Packers players will be off until training camp kicks off in late July. The club has not yet released its training camp schedule because it needs a finalized preseason game schedule to do so.
The Packers will also have their annual post-draft rookie orientation camp the weekend after the May 8-10 NFL Draft.
GREEN BAY – At the NFC Coaches Breakfast at the annual NFL Meetings last week, Mike McCarthy was asked what he thought of his team’s running back situation.
The Green Bay Packers coach replied with one word.
“Depth,” he said.
With the re-signing of veteran fullback John Kuhn, who came to terms on a one-year deal worth just over $1 million on Thursday, the Packers are even deeper in the backfield.
With NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy returning for his second season, No. 2 running back James Starks having re-upped with a two-year, $3.166 million deal ($725,000 guaranteed signing bonus) and DuJuan Harris (knee) and Johnathan Franklin (neck) both expected to return to full health, the Packers are loaded in the backfield. They also brought back Michael Hill, who spent time on both the 53-man roster and the practice squad last year before signing on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster late in the year.
Kuhn’s greatest value is in his knowledge of the offense and ability to be a pass-protector for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but during the NFL Meetings, McCarthy continued to emphasize that he wants all his backs – from Lacy on down the depth chart – to prove themselves capable of playing all three downs. McCarthy said that will be new running backs coach Sam Gash’s directive, to develop all of his guys into effective third-down options. Gash is replacing Alex Van Pelt, who slid over to coach quarterbacks after Ben McAdoo was hired as the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator.
“It's important for all of them to be three-down players,” McCarthy said. “It was something that was discussed a lot through the hiring process, and even more so with Sam Gash when he was hired. For the way we want to play on offense, we want players to be three-down players [if] we want to keep our substitution limited. That's an offseason goal of ours.”
At this point, no one pass protects like Kuhn, who helped save the Packers’ season by getting enough of now-teammate Julius Peppers to allow Rodgers to side-step the Chicago defensive end and throw the game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the regular-season finale at Soldier Field. That victory over the Bears sent the 8-7-1 Packers into the playoffs.
Asked what it takes to be an effective third-down back, McCarthy made it clear what still matters the most.
“A-No. 1, it is pass protection. We protect the quarterback,” McCarthy said. “He's a franchise quarterback, he's the best football player on our team, and we have to protect him. Checkdowns will [also] be an emphasis for us. Because we're very young with that group.”
At the time McCarthy was speaking, Kuhn had not come to terms, but the coach made it clear he wanted Kuhn back. Kuhn also is a key special-teams player and has also had a short-yardage role, so if the Packers go another direction on third downs, he still could contribute in other ways.
“Hopefully we get things worked out with John. I'd love to have John back,” McCarthy said. “He's been great in that room.”
With Kuhn’s return, that room is getting crowded.