It’s become increasingly clear during his first three seasons with the San Diego Chargers that running back Ryan Mathews is never going to be LaDainian Tomlinson. Despite the fact that he grew up with LT posters in his room and idolized him as a football player, Mathews has proven that aspiring to be someone else is not the way to achieve success in the NFL.
As the Bolts opened up training camp, Mathews acknowledged this as he said:
“I just think I put too much pressure on myself where I came in and tried to be what I wasn’t. There was a great guy who led the way for me, LaDainian Tomlinson, and I thought I had to be him and do what he was doing. Instead, I got away from who I am. I got away from having fun and put too much pressure on myself. So now I just want to go back to the basics, run the ball and have fun.”
I’m not sure what having fun has to do with it, but the Chargers would certainly be having more fun if Mathews stepped it up this season. There’s a reason Danny Woodhead as signed in free agency by the new regime of general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy.
These guys aren’t sold on Mathews.
And how could you be? With 10 games missed due to injury and a fumble total (12) that rivals his touchdown sum (14), Mathews has proven to be a complete enigma through three seasons. Staying healthy and on the field will certainly aid his cause of becoming a solid running back, but Mathews has loftier expectations than that. Even though he faces the fact that he won’t be the next LT, Mathews said:
“I think I can be a top-five back and be up with the best of them. I just have to be consistent. That’s the main thing, to be consistent with my play.”
Yeah, that would be the direct opposite of what Mathews has been thus far in his career. The 2012 season was a microcosm of this as he got off to a solid start returning from his collarbone injury last year. Of his first six games, five of them saw an average yards per carry (YPC) of 4.0 or more. In the next five, however, the highest YPC Mathews put up in any game was 3.8. That type of inconsistency is detrimental to an offense’s rhythm which showed last season.
Coach McCoy’s right-hand man this season will be offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and he summed up Mathews in a very succinct manner. Whisenhunt said:
“He can say he’s as talented as he wants to be, but until he does it consistently … that’s his mission. If he wants to be considered one of the best backs that’s what he’s got to prove. He doesn’t have to prove it to me; he has to do it consistently to be able to get more plays geared to him which will allow him to be the guy.”
The only proof will be on the field this season for Mathews actually improving. Some will say that his struggles were due to a pass-happy Norv Turner offense, and this season those excuses will be out the window.
This is it, Ryan Mathews. Time to put up or shut up.