Ryan Mathews Doubtful for Sunday, but Chargers Rookie Optimistic
So I checked on the Chargers' new hot shot and found him in good spirits despite a bum ankle that'll likely sideline him Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
"It is my rookie year, so I am learning a lot," said running back Ryan Mathews, drafted 12th overall last April. "As far as running the ball, I think I'm doing an excellent job. I also have a really, really good offensive line in front of me. That helps a lot, but I think I'm adapting well."
Mathews wasn't limping Friday, but he sat out all three San Diego practices this week because of the right ankle sprain suffered in the team's home opener. The Chargers list him as doubtful to play in Week 3 at Seattle.
After two Jacksonville Jaguars stood him up and bent him backward last Sunday, putting an end to his home debut, Mathews was carted away. He returned to the sideline but didn't play again in the Chargers' 38-13 victory.
The sprain was high up the ankle, yet apparently not a high ankle sprain -- which is good news for Mathews, because a high ankle sprain can sideline a skill player for well over a month.
"I wouldn't even say it was a high ankle sprain," Mathews told FanHouse. "Usually a high ankle is, you're not walking the next day or really doing anything like that. I'm walking fine. I don't feel pain or anything like that. It's really just real, real, real sore. Other than that, if I had to play ...
"It's sore. it's going to take some time to get used to, but it's going to heal up fine. It really is "
Mathews is the only Chargers 2010 draftee who has suited up this season. On top of that disturbing fact, he's the successor to San Diego icon LaDainian Tomlinson, which brought him attention beyond that of a typical first-round draft pick.
He's played well -- but two fumbles lost and the ankle injury will test his psyche.
Showing good speed, the 218-pounder has averaged 4.2 yards-per-carry over 24 rushes across his five NFL quarters. Tomlinson averaged 3.3 yards per carry last year in a Bolts offense that had Jackson and McNeill. The Bolts are blocking the run better than a year ago. Two games won't tell the full story.
Tomlinson, meanwhile, is off to a great start for the New York Jets, whose rugged style of play, L.T. said last January, recalled the Chargers and 2006, when L.T. won the league's MVP award and ground-oriented Marty Schottenheimer was the coach.
So far, as expected here, it's been a win-win for both backs and both teams.
Chargers coach Norv Turner said of Mathews: "He's looked great. He's played awfully well through the preseason and, obviously, the first two games."
The first of the fumbles, though, led to a Chiefs touchdown as part of Kansas City's upset victory in the season opener.
Turner said Mathews actually didn't fumble against the Jags, but he said that was almost beside the point, because Mathews allowed a Jags player to snatch the ball after he was stopped.
"Obviously, we don't want the ball on the ground, and that's something we're working hard on," Turner said.
Turner didn't invoke Yogi Berra, but Mathews needs to act like the play isn't over until it's truly over.
"It's about finishing runs," Turner said. "Both [fumbles] have come at the end of the run. I think he thinks, or starts to feel like the play might be over, or close to over."
Another way of looking at it: Mathews, like most rookies, must adjust to a more Darwinistic form of football.
By stealing the ball, NFL defenders and their coaches can retain their high-paying jobs. Fumbling wasn't a problem for Mathews at Fresno State, but the NFL is a universe apart from the WAC.
"In college," Mathews said, "they were just worried about tackling.
"You get that scholarship check, they're paid to tackle," he added. "Here, they're paid to get the ball away. Now, I've got to take into consideration that everyone's going after the ball."
He's been stood up a few times, which contributed to his injury and a fumble lost. Like a lot of rookies, he's finding out that a low angle of attack is extra crucial in the NFL.
"I've just got to be more and more careful with the ball," he said. "Just a little bit tighter ball security. I worked on it -- get my pads a little bit lower, and everything like that. It'll slowly come. You've just go to adapt. Just like I had to adapt to college, I've got to adapt to this."
He is a quick study, Turner said, which showed last Sunday when Mathews caught two passes for 29 yards. At Fresno State, the ball seldom was thrown to the running backs, and a month ago, Mathews had awkward moments in the passing game.
"Catching the ball was never a problem," Mathews said. "I think I have really good hands. I think I'm a well-rounded running back. The more passes I catch, the more (Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers) throws me, the more I'm going to get comfortable at that. It's still kind of a new thing."
Averaging 4.2 yards-per-carry and 10.2 yards-per-catch, Mathews already has shown he belongs on an NFL field. Whether he stays there will hinge on how he responds to the three setbacks.
"You learn from them," he said. "That's what happens. No one's perfect -- that's the one thing I have to realize. That stuff's going to happen. Especially me. I'm going to touch the ball 20, 25 times a game. I've got to be aware of my surroundings and just adapt to it."