Clay Matthews navigates fresh start with Rams, sans tan

After 10 seasons with the Packers, Clay Matthews is starting over in L.A., where he's figuring out everything from new meeting rooms to the front gate. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Clay Matthews, linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams.

After 10 seasons, a Super Bowl title and six Pro Bowl appearances as a member of the Green Bay Packers, Matthews' new title doesn't quite roll off the tongue.

Even for Matthews.

Recently, the outside linebacker was asked to record a short video -- the kind players routinely make for team websites or events. It's the type of thing Matthews has completed countless times throughout his career.

But in this instance, there was a slight glitch.

"Hey, it's Clay Matthews, Green Bay Pack...," Matthews said, before he offered a quick correction. "Los Angeles Ram!"

Matthews, 33, had no plans of joining a new team this late in his career. A first-round pick by the Packers in 2009, he thought, after 10 seasons, his career would end in the same place it started. But when the Packers informed Matthews after last season that they were moving in a different direction, he opened his mind to 31 other teams, then focused on the Rams.

Nearly three months after Matthews signed a two-year contract, with $5.5 million in guarantees, his fair skin still shows no hint of a California tan. But as the Rams enter the final phase of the offseason program with mandatory minicamp, Matthews is settling in with a renewed energy.

"It's definitely different, especially when you're in a rhythm of going to the same place, knowing all the people out there in Green Bay and just having a routine," Matthews said. "That being said, it's almost nice to break that routine, and although there's some anxiety that's involved in that and some nerves ... because of the change of pace, because it's something new, but it also breathes some new life and fresh air into you."

Finding his footing on the football field, even in a new scheme with new coaches and teammates, has appeared rather seamless. That's not a surprise for an accomplished player who has 84.5 career sacks.

Off the field, however, the transition, at least for a short period, felt like traveling back in time, Matthews said.

"The first two weeks were, I mean, I hate to use the word difficult, but it was new," Matthews said. "Which I haven't had to experience since my rookie year."

For a 10-year veteran, "new" meant not only navigating his way through an unfamiliar playbook but through far more basic tasks. It required him to open Google Maps to navigate to the practice facility, despite growing up in the area, but then the app provided no answer as to how to make his way beyond the secured gate at the front entrance. "How do I get in? Is there security? Is there a key card?" Matthews wondered, before he gained entry, then was tasked with figuring out exactly where to park.

"It's a free-for-all with the hyenas back there," Matthews said, chuckling, about the first-come, first-serve offseason parking protocol. "So if you get here early, obviously you get a better spot."

If only there was a Google Maps to navigate inside the Rams' temporary training facility, because that would have proved helpful, too.

"The meeting room is kind of like a labyrinth, as far as all the rooms, where sometimes I would step into the quarterbacks room -- where you kind of have to cross the hall there, but I've kind of figured it out now," Matthews said. "It's really not all that big -- it's just disjointed a little bit."

Safety Eric Weddle, whom Matthews has developed a quick connection with since the two became acquainted at previous Pro Bowls, went through a similar transition after he spent nine seasons with the then-San Diego Chargers and then signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016.

"You just got to throw yourself all-in," said Weddle, who signed with the Rams 11 days before Matthews this offseason. "And live with what happens."

Matthews played both outside and inside linebacker with the Packers, and he is expected to contribute at both spots in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' scheme. In the base defense, he will line up on the outside, and on third down, or any pass-rush situation, he said he would be flexible.

He also has welcomed a role as a veteran leader among an otherwise young, and somewhat inexperienced, group that includes third-year pro Samson Ebukam and fifth-year pro Dante Fowler Jr.

"Anytime we watch any game with him on the field, I'm looking at him," Fowler said. "If we do any drills, I'm looking at him. I love how he rushes. It was really cool just to see a guy get sacks on TV and stuff and all that, but when you're really watching a person's craft and see why he's that good, it's amazing."

There are still some things for Matthews to figure out. New faces pop up daily, from interns to equipment managers and support staff, and with that comes a host of names to learn.

But after nearly eight weeks in the offseason program, and just over a month until training camp, Matthews has a solid grasp on his new title and team.

"I consider myself a regular now," he said.