The Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers proved that you can take a team with a mix of both seasoned veterans and wide-eyed youngsters, deal with a ton of injuries to give so many of those players quality playing time and experience, and then end up on top of the pro football world. This blueprint for success should be emulated around the league and to start, every team needs that one key player to build a team around that will be able to compete year after year.
For the Baltimore Ravens, that player has always been linebacker Ray Lewis. He was the second player taken in the first draft of the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 (LT Jonathan Ogden was the first). Around him over the years, the names and faces have changed, both between the hashmarks and on the sidelines, as well as up in the owner's box. However, the one constant has been Ray.
The Packers now have that type of player in their fold and he is second year linebacker Clay Matthews.
Clay Matthews 3rd, just completed his second NFL season, drafted out of USC in the first round, coincidentallywith the exact same 26th overall pick that the Ravens used to draft Ray Lewis in 1996, and not coincidentally, wears the same #52 as the Baltimore great does. Matthews formed one of the most formidable linebacking corps in college football history with fellow Trojans Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati Bengals) and Brian Cushing (Houston Texans). Matthews has only played in the NFL for two seasons, but he has been named to the Pro Bowl both years. He finished a close second to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His final stats for 2010 included 13.5 sacks and a 62 yard interception return for a touchdown, all helping the Packers to rank 5th in overall defense, second in points allowed and tied for second in QB sacks.
With his long, blond flowing locks of hair sticking from under his helmet to his old school rugged good looks, Matthews has quickly become a fan favorite. His animated antics after making tackles, sacks or other good plays fires up those fans as well as his teammates. Off the field, he is a quiet unassuming guy, who charitable efforts mimic his determination and attitude on the gridiron.
Matthews has great football genes, as evidenced by his personal family tree, highlighted here from Wikipedia:
Matthews comes from a football family. Matthews' father, Clay Matthews, Jr., played the third most games in NFL history (278) over 19 seasons as a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falconswhile earning 4 Pro Bowl selections. Matthews' uncle, Bruce Matthews, played as an offensive lineman for 19 years in the National Football League for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titansfranchise after being drafted out of USC in 1983. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and considered one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, playing in an NFL-record 14 consecutive Pro Bowls. Both brothers were All-Americans. His grandfather, Clay Matthews, Sr., played 4 seasons in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ersin the 1950s. Of the four sons of Clay Matthews, Jr., he is the second to play for USC. His younger brother Casey Matthews plays linebacker for the University of Oregon Ducks. His cousin, Kevin, is a center for the Tennessee Titans.
Matthews is the consummate type of player that the Baltimore Ravens should consider to either "promote" from within or acquire through free agency or the 2011 Draft to ultimately step into Ray Lewis' cleats one day as the vocal leader of the team. To follow Matthews career more closely in the future check out his own personal website here.