It's not critical in itself that LB Clay Matthews returned to practice on Thursday for the Green Bay Packers, but it is a sign that his quad injury is feeling better. He wasn't able to practice last Thursday, and was limited in practice on Friday.
Not much has been said about the severity of the injury, but it might be more serious than he's let on. He's been known to downplay injuries before. Here are some key stats (sacks, tackles for a loss, and quarterback hits) for him over the past three games:
Disruptive and effective, but not as dominant as we've seen. Last week he played against the Bears backup right tackle, so it was surprising he didn't record a single sack. He was double (even triple) teamed on some plays, but not all the time. It reminded me of last season when an injury kept him out of practice, but not out of games, and he wasn't as good.
He didn't practice in pads last November and for most of December. Here's how he did after the bye week:
The Packers lost those two games (Falcons and Patriots) in which he didn't record a single stat in those categories while he was playing through a stress fracture. He was able to resume practicing in pads right before Christmas, and he finished the season with 4.5 sacks in his final 6 games.
Once he gets fully healthy, he's going to get better. Based on his return to practice on Thursday, it looks like he's getting closer.