There’s no getting around how down many fans (myself included) have been on Ryan Mathews heading into the 2013 season. It seemed even the organization itself was ready to turn the page on Mathews believing the book had already been written on his lackluster career by signing Danny Woodhead in the offseason. But the second preseason game showed that the running back still has something to offer to the San Diego Chargers, and head coach Mike McCoy is going to get every drop of effort out of him in the upcoming campaign.
From the rumors of Mathews being “the guy” to the whispers about a “hot hand” approach to the backfield situation, it’s hard to know just what to believe from the Bolts and what will transpire this year. What was unmistakable, however, was just how impressive Mathews looked against the Chicago Bears in the team’s second preseason tilt. His coach certainly took notice of Mathews’ effort against Chicago as he told U-T San Diego:
“The way that (he) ran the ball was outstanding. We ran the ball efficiently tonight. I think the way he’s running the football (is) what we’re looking for in our back.”
It’s hard to blame McCoy for having that burst of confidence in the still just 25 year-old back with the way he was hitting the hole and decisively getting up field on his runs. His effort was obvious as first contact didn’t bring him down once on the night. Mathews kept his legs driving forward and picked up every possible inch on each of his carries.
Clearly health – or lack thereof – is what has prevented Mathews from truly realizing his potential to some extent. He has played in just 38 of a possible 48 games since coming into the NFL three years ago, and that definitely contributed to his issues last season when he broke his one clavicle in the preseason and then the other as the regular season was winding down.
Staying on the field is a must for Mathews in 2013, but not having as many defenders in the backfield to get hands on him before he even reaches the line of scrimmage will certainly aid his cause as well. Despite its ineptitude in pass blocking against the Bears, the Bolts’ offensive line was impressive in paving the way for the running game. Rookie D.J. Fluker is an absolute animal capable of road-grading enormous holes for the ball carrier to go through.
Mathews expressed his excitement about what’s going on with the new philosophies prior to Thursday night’s game as he said:
“I like what they are doing. It’s fun and aggressive. There are a lot of run plays and a lot of pass plays so it’s balanced. So I’m excited about it and how well I can play in it. And I know everyone else is too. I just want to help the team as much as I can.”
The outside may try to place pressure on the back entering his fourth year in the league, but he seems fairly oblivious to it. Hopefully his enthusiasm about what the new coaching staff is doing produces a career year for the beleaguered back. It seems clear that quarterback Philip Rivers is going to need all the help he can get in the upcoming season.