As someone who has been watching the career of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Rashean Mathis since his days at Englewood High School, it gives me great pleasure to see the hometown hero make his way back from the ACL replacement surgery he had almost six months ago to the day.
Mathis, who is arguably the best defensive back the team has ever had on its roster, signed a one-year contract in the offseason that could be worth as much as $5 million.
Mathis has played for the Jaguars since being the team’s second-round pick out of Bethune-Cookman in 2003.
He has played at an All-Pro level at times during his tenure with the team, but in recent years, he's struggled due to injuries and poor play. Last season, it looked as though he was playing close to the level that was expected of him until the knee injury he suffered at Indianapolis.
With his contract expiring after the 2011 season and little talk about his return, it appeared that was the end of the line for the popular star.
According to Tania Ganguli’s Florida Times-Union article this week, Mathis is “far ahead of schedule after undergoing anterior cruciate ligament replacement surgery in November and could be back to practicing by next month.”
That is good news for the Jaguars. Not only will they be getting a good defender back on a team that was decimated by injuries last season on defense (the team finished sixth overall in total defense despite those injuries), but they will also get a proven leader on the field and in the locker room, where Mathis’ value is truly evident.
Jacksonville may have made improvements on defense last season, but the team was still 5-11 on the year and there were holes that sprung leaks on the defensive side of the ball as the season progressed.
“I did expect my body to react well to it,” Mathis said in Ganguli’s article. “How well? Who knows? Am I happy? Very happy with where I am now. Yes, very happy.”
That happiness should be felt throughout the team and by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
According to Ganguli back in March, head coach Mike Mularkey said that Mathis will compete with free-agent signee and former New York Giants defensive back Aaron Ross for the starting slot on the team.
Mathis said he followed the lead of other great players who have suffered the same injury and has worked hard to get back into playing shape and to recover quickly.
“I’ve seen guys come back,” Mathis said. “It wasn’t like I would be the first. [Patriots receiver] Wes Welker had an unbelievable comeback from his a year ago. Being that it’s been done before and I’m not the first so it’s not like I’m defying all odds, I knew there was a possibility I could be way ahead of the curve. It’s just all about how I took care of myself.”
He also said that being a light 190 pounds helps with the recovery, as opposed to big linemen who suffer the same injury.
That’s important since the AFC South features teams that are not afraid to throw the ball, with Houston having such a high-powered offense and Indianapolis figuring to feature Andrew Luck’s arm often during a game.
If Mathis can come back and play near the same kind of intensity as he did in 2011 prior to the injury, that can only make the Jaguars back line stronger. It would also mean that the old man of the secondary would be around to help tutor and mentor the younger defensive backs who are still adjusting to the rigors of the professional game.
In that case, it could be a win-win situation for the team and the player the Jags hope will return to his former self.