After a mediocre rookie year where Mathews rushed for just 678 yards and seven touchdowns, he rebounded with a solid sophomore season where he rushed for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 455 receiving yards on 55 total catches. The Chargers lost running back Mike Tolbert to the Carolina Panthers in free agency, and now, Mathews will carry the Chargers' rushing game.
Mathews will be entering the third year of his five-year rookie contract, and with the spotlight focused on No. 24, expect Mathews to have a breakout season and take over the NFL in 2012.
Watching the San Diego Chargers last year, it was obvious they could not figure out how to use their two running backs correctly. Both Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert carried the ball for the Bolts last season. However, Mathews was the more productive back, and it was curious to see him not get at least 20 carries in every game.
Mathews averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season, and every time he touched the ball, there was a chance that he could break off a big run. Despite an outstanding yard per carry average, there were eight games (Mathews missed two games with injury) where Mathews had less than 15 carries in the game. In those eight games, the Chargers went just 2-6.
Chargers head coach, Norv Turner, has already said that he expects Mathew’s workload and production to rise from where they were last year. Last season, Mathews ranked 10th in the NFL in total rushing.
He did this while splitting carries as well as missing those two games with injuries. If Mathews can stay on the field for all 16 games, and with added carries, Mathews should have no problem being a top-five running back in the NFL.
Along with his rushing ability, Ryan Mathews is just as dangerous out of the backfield catching the football. He has a special skill set that makes him a major mismatch for opposing defenses when he comes out of the backfield, looking for a pass.
He's too fast for linebackers to cover and too big and powerful for a cornerback to cover him. This is an advantage that the Chargers should use every game.
Last year, Mathews surrendered some of the passing plays to Mike Tolbert, but now, that Tolbert is gone, Mathews will be on the field for almost every play and should see his receptions as well as receiving touchdowns skyrocket.
Mathews’ reception total went from 22 catches his rookie season to 50 his sophomore season. Don’t expect Mathew’s reception total to come near LaDainian Tomlinson’s 100-reception year he had in 2003. I would predict that Mathews will most likely have between 55-65 catches in 2012.
Ryan Mathews’ talent has never been questioned, however, his work ethic off the field has been. Following his rookie season, Mathews had to deal with his first offseason training on his own; this, accompanied with the lockout, did not bode well for him. He showed up to camp out of shape and failed the team’s conditioning test.
Failing the conditioning test is something that has been driving Mathews this offseason. He has devoted himself to making sure that he is one of the most in-shape players on the Chargers roster. He has transformed his body, adding muscle so that he can bounce off tackles as well as working on his breakaway speed, which is something that he has lacked so far in this two-year career.
During the offseason, he has worked on his ball security, which has been something that has plagued him during his short time in the NFL. Last year, Mathews fumbled the ball five times which was one more than he did his rookie year.
During his workouts this offseason, Mathews carries a football with him held tightly against his body. The Ryan Mathews who will take the field for the Chargers in 2012 will be a better version of the one we saw in 2011, and that should make Charger fans very happy.
A big thing that helps a young running back is a solid offensive line. Last year, the Chargers' offensive line was dominated by injuries and poor play. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert had trouble running between the tackles and were bounced to the outside on many of their runs.
2012 will be a different story for the Chargers' O-line. The Chargers signed Jared Gaither long term, who performed very well for them last year. Tyrone Greene will fight to step in for Kris Dielman, who retired after a concussion last year.
Greene has also dedicated himself this offseason, spending some time at the O-Line Academy in Avon, Ohio. The Chargers also brought in Rex Hadnot, who has the ability to play at any position on the offensive line, during free agency.
The former Arizona Cardinal started all 16 games at right guard last season. Hadnot and Greene will compete for the starting right guard job.
The offensive line will be much more stable this year than they were last year, and this will help Mathew’s have a giant year for the Chargers.
To accompany the offensive line, the Chargers added Le’Ron McClain during free agency. The Chargers have not had a dominant fullback since Lorenzo Neal, who charged through the offensive line and busted open holes for LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers hope that McClain will have the same effect for Ryan Mathews. McClain will help Mathews in every aspect of his game; not only is he a great blocker, but he's also a dangerous runner who will be a threat to opposing defenses.
This will force teams to account for both McClain as well as Mathews. With a strong lead blocker and an improved offensive line, expect Ryan Mathews to have a monster 2012 season.