Running back Ryan Mathews is preparing for the biggest season of his short NFL career.
Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert are gone, leaving Mathews as the man in the backfield for the Chargers. They have big expectations for Mathews in San Diego this season, expectations that head coach Norv Turner outlined to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“I personally think he’s ready to take that next step,” Turner said, while moving his hand up to illustrate how high Mathews could rise this season. “That means, to me, the production goes way up, and he’s more of the guy that is on the field most of the time. I think he’s grown a lot in terms of understanding his responsibility when the ball is in his hand.”
Mathews ran for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns last season while also catching 50 passes out of the backfield. Those stats came in 14 games with Tolbert on the scene, which means Mathews played on less than half the offensive stats. Given all that, it’s not hard to see Mathews turning in an even bigger season in 2012.
The keys to unlocking that season will be staying healthy (Mathews has missed six games in his first two years) and starting the year off in the best possible shape. The latter was a problem for Mathews last year — he couldn’t make it through a conditioning test on the first day of camp — but it shouldn’t be one this summer. Mathews’ teammate Jacob Hester said that the tailback looks like “Arnold” with his shirt off, a development that could help him terminate any doubts about his ability to handle an expanded role.