Ryan Mathews: San Diego Chargers Running Back Due for Breakout Game

Todd KaufmannSenior Writer INovember 5, 2010

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 31:  Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Qualcomm Stadium on October 31, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

A few weeks before the draft, I read everything I could get my hands on about Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews.

There were no shortages of teams that wanted to draft him but my personal hope was having him drafted by the San Diego Chargers. My own belief was he would succeed the most next to quarterback Philip Rivers and the fact that he'd only be six hours south of where he had gone to school, which meant he'd be able to play in front of family and friends during just about every home game.

I had the opportunity to watch this young running back during his college career under Pat Hill at Fresno State. I had watched him blow past defenders, bust through holes in the defensive line and make something out of nothing.

Needless to say, he was arguably the best running back Fresno State had seen in quite some time. I'd argue to say he was the best since another former Charger wore the Bulldog red, Lorenzo Neal.

The famous former Bulldog running back has been a mentor to the younger Mathews since before he was drafted by San Diego back in April. Neal knows a lot about Ryan due to his still close ties to the Fresno State football program and he's still close friends with former Chargers' running back LaDainian Tomlinson. It gives him an interesting perspective to say the least

Neal did an interview with 619 Sports and called Mathews "lightning in a bottle" and said he was "absolutely elated" when the Chargers traded up to draft the former Bulldog.

He was able to watch Mathews against Boise State, when he ran for over 200 yards and told the young running back after the game, "Young man, we're going to see you on Sundays in a very high round and I'm looking for big things from [you]."

Those words from a guy that's not only played at Fresno State under the head coach that the field at Bulldog Stadium is named for, Jim Sweeney, but who also had his days in the NFL with a few different teams, including the San Diego Chargers.

This is a big fullback that turned from a bruising running back to one of the biggest reasons Tomlinson was able to put up the kind of yards he did a few years ago. He had a big guy like Neal in front of him that could get guys out of the way.

There hasn't been a better guy to mentor a young running back that's spending his rookie season in San Diego, and a guy like Lorenzo Neal is the perfect guy to keep Mathews humble and fix the frustrations he's had so far this season.

A guy that a lot of Charger fans were expecting to be just like Tomlinson has fallen well short of those expectations and has yet to have that "breakout" game that I thought was going to come.

There's no question that this young running back is as talented as any young running back in the game, especially those that were drafted in the same class as he was. The Charges saw something in Ryan Mathews that they liked. It's why they traded up to get him.

However, there are going to be frustrations for this young man as he figures out the National Football League. He'll need to learn that success doesn't always come in your first season. It takes time to prove yourself and to prove to your coaches and teammates that you can carry the load.

Sometimes it takes a little longer for that trust to come, but, once it does, Ryan will become one of the most exciting running backs in the NFL. He'll bring the same think Tomlinson did in San Diego. He won't be the same kind of running back but he'll make his own name in San Diego and he'll bring a new anticipation to every fan that files in to Qualcomm Stadium.

While Charger fans don't want to get rid of their LaDainian Tomlinson jerseys, no matter the fact that his days in San Diego are over, they want to find a new jersey that they can wear with pride. A jersey that, when worn around town, people will ask where they found it.

That jersey is going to be the No. 24 and the last name of Mathews on the back.

I agree 100 percent with Lorenzo Neal: Ryan has that "it" thing and will show just why the Chargers drafted him on draft day. Sure, they could have gone after someone else, and I know that fans are still waiting for that "breakout day" for their rookie running back.

It's been a struggle for not only Mathews, but also the entire team this season. They've stumbled out to a 3-5 start to the season and have lost games this team never would have lost last season.

If there's one thing to look forward to, it's the breakout game that makes Charger fans say, "So this is why we drafted him."

That game is coming, and it's going to be soon. It won't be long before Ryan Mathews becomes a household name around San Diego and becomes a guy that makes the entire league stand up and take notice.