Matthews Sees Cross-Training As Big Opportunity

Matthews Sees Cross-Training As Big Opportunity

Jay Adams

Published August 7, 2013 at 11:25 AM

When drafted in the seventh round, players have no choice but to be flexible so it’s a good thing Cliff Matthews is the picture of defensive line versatility.

Listed as the backup to Kroy Biermann at defensive end on the first depth chart the Falcons released this week, Matthews cannot be boxed into just one role or position. He’s taken the offseason to learn as much as he can about how to play outside and inside on the defensive line.

His cross-training at both positions will be tested starting Thursday night in the Falcons’ first preseason game of the year. While he hasn’t been given any indication about how much he’ll play at either defensive end or defensive tackle, Matthews said Wednesday that he’s ready for whatever the coaching staff wants to throw at him.

“I felt like it was another opportunity for me to pursue,” Matthews said of the added responsibilities. “I’m just taking it one day at a time and taking advantage of it.”

During the offseason, Matthews bulked up and put on some weight. Listed at 268 on the roster, Matthews is small by defensive tackle standards on paper, but in reality, Matthews looks bigger and even jokes by saying he’s “somewhere between 250 and 300.”

He credits the Falcons’ Athletic Performance team and head strength and conditioning coach AJ Neibel and assistant strength and condition coach Jonas Beauchemin for getting right down to the details of the types of foods Matthews would need to be eating to get his weight to a more favorable number to play inside.

Head coach Mike Smith is eager to see how the added weight and time spent cross training has benefited Matthews in live game action. He said the goal this offseason was to create versatility across the whole line and Matthews, along with others, have helped the Falcons achieve that.

“We want to have as much flexibility as we can with our defensive line,” Smith said. “We want to have guys that can lineup inside and outside, and, in my mind, we’ve got two or three guys that can do that, not just Cliff.”

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