Coach Mike McCarthy informed the media on Monday afternoon that Clay Matthews will miss “at least two weeks” with a hamstring injury, and while losing a Pro Bowl player for any length of time is never a good thing, there are a couple of silver linings. The big one is that the former USC star should return in time for the season opener against the Eagles. The other is that Brad Jones now has a better chance of retaining his starting job at left outside linebacker. Why’s that good news? Because, in our humble opinion, the defense would be stronger with Matthews and Jones than it would be with Matthews and Chillar. Here’s why:
By starting Chillar at right outside linebacker, the coaches would be forcing Matthews to learn a new position. And don’t think for a second that switching sides is an easy thing to do. It requires significant adjustments, from the placement of feet to the distribution of weight. And more. “Beyond all that, it’s kind of seeing how plays develop,” Matthews explained to Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “You’ve got to learn how to set the edge against a tackle or tight end. Gotta learn how to rush the passer, kind of tilt your hips (differently).” That’s a lot to master in a short period of time, and while he could probably do it, why risk it – especially for a player like Chillar? This brings us to our next point.
Chillar is a really nice guy to have on a football team, but he’s not a starting outside linebacker in a 3-4. Or at least he’s not going to be a very good one. At 237 pounds, he’s very small for the position (yes, Jones played last season at a similar weight, but he’s stronger, faster and had Johnny Jolly in front of him). And while the coaches love to talk about his athleticism, the truth is, his physical skills are hardly élite. DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys is an élite athlete. Matthews is close to being one. Chillar is not.
Because Chillar is undersized and not a great athlete, he’s going to have trouble playing outside on a full-time basis. In his first five seasons as a 4-3 outside linebacker in St. Louis and Green Bay, the former UCLA star was never particularly good against the run, and that was when he lined up at a position and in a scheme that played more to his strengths. Chillar can chase the ball, but he’s never done a consistently good job of using his hands to fend off blocks and protect his lower body. And he won’t get much help working behind right defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who was the line’s weakest link against the run last season.
As far as rushing the quarterback is concerned, well, let’s just say Chillar isn’t going to cause many sleepless nights for left tackles around the league. His most effective path to the quarterback is blitzing from the inside. That’s where he can use timing, quickness and guile to navigate his way through traffic and create pressure. Expecting him to beat 325-pound athletic left tackles one-on-one is asking too much. And don’t be fooled by what Chillar may do in August. Things are a lot different once September rolls around and veteran offensive linemen are actually motivated to play and well-prepared for what they’re going to see.
None of this is to suggest that Jones is the answer at left outside linebacker. The second-year player from Colorado still has a lot to prove, but he showed enough potential as a rookie to merit a longer look with the starters than just one day. And due to Matthews’ injury, he’ll get just that. If he doesn’t get the job done in the next few weeks, then starting Chillar might indeed be the best option. But as things stand now, maintaining the status would seem to make the most sense. Keep Matthews where he’s most comfortable, let Jones develop opposite him and continue to take advantage of Chillar’s greatest asset – his versatility – by lining him up all over the field.