GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — With Clay Matthews on one side and Julius Peppers on the other, the Green Bay Packers have a pair of prolific veterans to spearhead the pass rush.
It made for a pleasant sight for coach Mike McCarthy during training camp.
"It looks good," he said Monday about the potential for the pass rush this season.
Matthews is back from a thumb injury, and Peppers signed with the Packers in the offseason after becoming a salary cap casualty of the NFC North rival Chicago Bears. The debut of the retooled defense comes Thursday night with a visit to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFL opener.
"We're a better pass rush team today than we've been in a long time," McCarthy said after practice Monday. "Some of the things we've changed schematically, we've worked at it a lot more ... and I think we saw the benefits in the preseason."
It's not often a team can add someone like Peppers, a 13-year veteran with 118 1/2 career sacks. Now 34, Peppers has fielded questions all preseason about his age — though he looked fine during his limited snaps as the preseason progressed.
Matthews is returning from surgery for a right thumb injury that sidelined him for parts of last season. When he did come back after the initial injury in October, he wore a club-like wrap around his right hand that might have hindered his effectiveness.
It no longer appears to be a problem for Matthews, who has 50 sacks in five seasons.
"It seems like he's gotten very comfortable over the offseason, training camp, and it was a work in progress through the preseason," linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "But he seems like he's operating pretty much at full strength, yes."
Nick Perry, a 2012 first-round draft pick, is back, too, after being bothered by a foot injury last year. So is Mike Neal, a defensive lineman in college who had five sacks last season while playing a hybrid defensive end-linebacker role.
Andy Mulumba returns after getting valuable experience last season filling in for injured players. Undrafted rookie free agent Jayrone Elliott made the roster after compiling five preseason sacks.
Now add Peppers to the mix, and the Packers have the making of a deep corps of pass rushers.
The Packers aren't going to have Peppers and Matthews on opposite sides all the time, either. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers could come up with some creative looks.
"It'll be fun to see. I know, as I've seen over the years and as Dom has shown, we keep a multitude of defenses and schemes and formations, and (the Seattle offense) presents the very same problems," Matthews said. "So we'll look to unleash it in Week 1 and hopefully it works in our favor."
It won't be easy with mobile quarterback Russell Wilson displaying the ability to extend plays, and Marshawn Lynch pounding away at running back.
Lynch, in particular, provides the renovated defensive line with a test. The Packers didn't re-sign 340-pound Ryan Pickett and 325-pound Johnny Jolly in the offseason, then lost 337-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji to a season-ending biceps injury two weeks ago.
The front line in the base 3-4 is now composed of 290-pound Datone Jones and 305-pound Mike Daniels sandwiching 315-pound Letroy Guion in the middle. Guion is listed as a starter just a week after debuting in training camp following a hamstring injury.
"Six-foot-4 1/2, 290? That's a big defensive end right there," Jones said with a chuckle when asked how a smaller line could handle the run.
But in losing size, the Packers got more athletic. At linebacker, they're healthy with a full complement of outside rushers.
The ideal scenario is getting pressure with a four-man rush and getting to the quarterback in one-on-one situations.
"Really, that's what you need in this league — you need guys, when they're one on one, that they can win their share of the battles," Capers said. "I feel like we have guys that have the potential to do that."