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Mathews plans for explosive third season

Posted May 14, 2012

SAN DIEGO – Third-year running back Ryan Mathews never has been through a normal NFL offseason.

Rookie campaigns impose challenges, as players train for the Combine and their pro days as soon as the college season ends, then go through the draft and are busy shuttling their lives to a new city. First-rounders at skill positions like Mathews face a deluge of media and other off-field requests.

Last year, in his second season, Mathews missed out on key developmental field time as the lockout cancelled all organized offseason activities.

During last season’s training camp, Mathews realized his conditioning wasn’t what he thought. He worked himself into top shape in time to finish in the NFL’s top 10 for yards from scrimmage, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and catching 50 passes in a much-improved campaign.

Mathews figures to set the table for an even-better 2012 by going through an entire offseason training program with his coaches and teammates at Chargers Park.

“Being able to be at our facility with our own stuff instead of having to find somewhere to work out, it’s just a lot better for us. It affected a lot of guys (last year),” Mathews said.

“It affected me big-time because I was coming into my second year. If I would’ve had this last year, I would’ve been way above where I’d be right now, but I’m headed in the right direction still.”

The Chargers didn’t draft a running back until the seventh round. They may or may not still sign a veteran, but have been in no hurry to do so.

Could that be confidence in Curtis Brinkley’s development, Le’Ron McClain’s versatility and Jacob Hester’s presence as an emergency guy? Perhaps. But it also points at high expectations for Mathews as a true lead man in 2012.

“I have big plans for myself this year, too,” Mathews said. “I want to be one of the best running backs in the league and to do that, you’ve got to let it be known how great you want to be. Things can only get better for me and I’m going to keep working hard.”

Other than the conditioning road bump in early August, Mathews admitted, confidence never has been an issue.

There’s a reason for that. Not many would mind looking at themselves in a mirror with his physique, but Mathews’ speed and balance really are what stand out. They’ve helped him average 4.7 yards per carry in his first two NFL seasons, numbers that compare favorably to Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and LaDainian Tomlinson (Jim Brown and Barry Sanders each averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in their first two professional seasons).

The Chargers want him to continue to work on ball security and pass protection. An ankle injury hindered him as a rookie and he fought through several minor ailments last season to play in 14 games.

Other than continued development as an all-around back, Mathews’ biggest focus is staying on the field. Mathews feels he has yet to peak as an NFL player and would like to continue to increase his workload.

“I’ve just got to do it for 16 games. Then even more than that,” he said. “I plan for our team to go all the way. I’ve just got to do it for 16 games, one game at a time, and keep balling hard every single game.”

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