The Chargers haven’t kept it a secret this offseason that they want third-year tailback Ryan Mathews to handle a significant 2012 workload. Coach Norv Turner believes Mathews is “ready to take that next step,” and has likened Mathews to Ricky Williams, who carried the football 383 times in 2002 and 392 times in 2003, when Turner was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator.
I interviewed Greg Cosell of NFL Films late last week, and the game-tape guru is smitten with Mathews’ talent.
“I really like his skill set,” said Cosell. “Obviously, he came out and they traded up to take him with the 12th pick because they saw him, truly, as a foundation back. And that’s what Norv Turner likes to have — a foundation back. I think he’s got the skill set to be that.
“I think he’s quick. I think he’s got short-area burst. I think he’s got some speed. There’s nothing about the way he runs that I don’t like. … I think in terms of running skill set, if I’m to look at backs in the league, I think he could be a top-five guy.”
Cosell allowed that Mathews has some obstacles to overcome if he’s to fulfill his lofty potential. Cosell cited Mathews’ history of fumbling — an issue that once plagued Adrian Peterson in Minnesota — as well as displaying the running “mindset” required of true NFL workhorses.
“One of the things about being one of those kinds of backs, where you truly are asked to carry 17, 18, 23, 24 times a game, depending on the game, there’s a mental element to that, as well as a physical element,” Cosell explained. “Because you have to have a mindset to be able to do that in the third and fourth quarter.
“A lot of guys have great skill, but when you’re asked to carry the ball over and over and over again against defenses that hit you … I mean, LaDainian Tomlinson just talked about this in an interview — about getting hit hard on every play. There’s a mindset that goes along with that. And I think we’ll have to see. This will be the year we see if Ryan Mathews truly has that mentality.”