After another disappointing 2012-13 season, the Sand Diego Chargers fired coach Norv Turner and were rumored to be shopping veteran quarterback Philip Rivers. Also expected to be included in the house-cleaning project was perennial underperformer Ryan Mathews. A running back with immense physical gifts, he has the kind of positive, competitive attitude that coaches dream of, and a ceiling high enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.
Despite the obvious upside possesses, Mathews has failed to perform up to his abilities since coming into the league in 2010, often crippled by injuries and struggling with a high fumbling rate. Many in San Diego have begun to feel as if he may be more valuable as trade bait for a team who wants to take on a potentially star RB, getting tired of waiting for him to develop with the Chargers.
If he entered the market, teams like the Falcons, Steelers and Packers would all be potential destinations, each of them looking for a running back of the future. Even more frustrating for fans is the fact that the Chargers traded up 16 spots in the first round to get him, saddling him immediately with the expectations that he could be the replacement for superstar LaDainian Tomlison.
The new Chargers brass have decided to stick with the troubled back, however. GM Tom Telesco, hired in January and the youngest GM in Chargers history, recently expressed glowing praise for Mathews, implying the window for his success as a Charger is still open.
“(Mathews) is really talented, a really good back,” Telesco said. “He’s got size, and he runs well, but he’s had some injuries, too. I think he can be a bellcow back, but he needs to prove that on the field by staying healthy. I think he’s going to have a chance to do that.”
This opens up some interesting issues for the Chargers at the RB position. Backups Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown might well leave in free agency next month, and regardless of how much the new management believes in him, the only consistent thing about Mathews career thus far has been his injury history. This means that the Chargers will likely have to spend a high draft pick on a backup, one that may well be the face of the running game if Mathews goes down with injury again.
Until that happens, though, the Chargers are clearly all-in on sticking with Mathews. New head coach Mike McCoy also chimed in on Mathews recently.
“But he’s a very talented back…. I spent a lot of time the past couple weeks (discussing) what we want to do with him. … There’s a number of touches, and we’ve got to do a better job up front as an entire football team helping him out, getting him involved in the passing game because he’s a talented player who can do a lot of different things.”
As has been the case his who career, great expectations are being placed on Mathews for the upcoming season. Time will tell if he can live up to them for a change.