The fluke injuries that have derailed Ryan Mathews’ NFL career were something the San Diego Chargers running back couldn’t control.
Something that is within his power: better production when he is healthy.
To that end, Mathews enters his fourth NFL season with a new approach. He is no longer putting pressure on himself to try and fill the giant shoes left behind by Chargers all-time leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson. Mathews believes that will help him better showcase the talent that made him the No. 12 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“One of my main problems was trying to do over-my-head stuff and not really being me,” Tomlinson told me and co-host Gil Brandt on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “That’s one thing I wanted to focus on this offseason – not trying to be someone that I’m not.”
Ex-Chargers head coach Norv Turner immediately placed the heat on Mathews by saying he expected the former Fresno State standout to tally 250 carries and 40 receptions as a rookie. Mathews not only fell short of that goal but also missed four games that season because of an injury.
Those physical ailments were a harbinger of what was to come. Although he enjoyed a more productive 2011 campaign with 1,091 rushing yards and 50 catches, Mathews slumped last season after breaking his collarbone twice.
Mathews will have to earn his carries under new head coach Mike McCoy. Early in training camp, Mathews isn’t being featured as San Diego’s bell-cow rusher like under Turner. He has received snaps with the first- and second-team units as McCoy uses Mathews in rotation with newcomer Danny Woodhead (New England) and the re-signed Ronnie Brown.
“I’ve been raised with (Denver head coach) John Fox in this league,” said McCoy, referring to his mentor with the Broncos and Carolina Panthers. “We always played with a couple of backs. It doesn’t matter who’s in there. Keep them fresh.
“That’s the big thing. Play the hot hand while you roll. If you’ve got to tap out for a play or two, we’ll put the next guy in.”
Mathews wants in more often than out. He reported to training camp lighter than in the past and with an upbeat attitude.
“I just want to have fun with it,” Mathews said. “I think I got away from having fun. Coming in here, I thought I had to do more than what I had to do. What I wanted to do this year was just get back to the basics. Do what I can to help my team win.”