SAN DIEGO –
As his peers texted their girlfriends or slipped on headphones, preparing to sleep, Mathews popped open his laptop to play some World of Warcraft, a multiplayer online role-playing game.
The 12th overall pick in this year’s draft spent many afternoons during OTAs flipping through a car magazine at his locker in silence.
|"Coming in here as new blood, I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team." - Ryan Mathews|
A mosaic of personalities become successful in the NFL, and to attach “good” and “bad” labels to certain attributes often is futile. But a calm, unexcitable demeanor could help a running back with the pressure of replacing a legend and the expectation to revitalize San Diego’s running game.
“I really haven’t given much thought about what the team did last year,” he said. “Coming in here as new blood, I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team. Whatever happened last year, that’s the past. It’s going to be a new team this year and it’s going to be fun.”
Speculation about the first-round pick’s performance has run wild, with the media and fans alike depicting a player with a real chance to make an impact. But Mathews, despite his combination of vision, power and speed, has yet to take even one preseason snap in the NFL. What is appropriate to expect?
“There’s a lot of variables when you enter a team as a rookie,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “He’s joining a real talented football team. It’s certainly a team that doesn’t have to lean on him.
“That being said, I expect Ryan to have an extremely productive season. I expect him to be a big part of our running game and he’s shown that he’s going to be very capable as a receiver. We felt he was the most complete back in the draft and we’re going to give him an opportunity to be a factor right away.”
That should allow the quick-as-a-peregrine-falcon
That’s fine with Sproles, who knows his strengths.
“We’re different,” Sproles said. “He’s more like a power type back and I’m more of a slasher, shifty type back, so (we should work well together).”
While Mathews and Sproles don’t have to fret about their place on the roster during training camp, three other running backs will compete for the third spot.
He compiled 1,471 all-purpose yards in the spread under June Jones last season. More change of pace than Mason, he wants to prove he’s just as elusive as the mainstay Sproles.
“If (Sproles) can have a productive career and have a major impact on an organization like the Chargers, then I know there’s hope for me,” McNeal said. “It gives me hope and gives me a sense of urgency to want to get better.”
|RUNNING BACKS AT A GLANCE|
Was the shortest player in the NFL last season … Keeps a Mighty Mouse bobblehead in his locker stall that Head Coach Norv Turner gave to him … One of the most prolific returners in Chargers history … Averaged 5.4 yards a carry and 11.8 yards a reception in 2008 as a third-down back … Should return to that role this season behind Mathews.
Week 1 starting running backs, 2000-09:
2000: Robert Chancey.
2001: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2002: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2003: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2004: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2005: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2006: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2007: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2008: LaDainian Tomlinson.
2009: LaDainian Tomlinson.
Week 1 running backs on roster, 2000-09:
2000: Robert Chancey, Terrell Fletcher.
2001: LaDainian Tomlinson, Ronney Jenkins, Terrell Fletcher.
2002: LaDainian Tomlinson, Ronney Jenkins, Terrell Fletcher, Jesse Chatman.
2003: LaDainian Tomlinson, Jesse Chatman, Leon Johnson.
2004: LaDainian Tomlinson, Jesse Chatman, Andrew Pinnock.
2005: LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles.
2006: LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner.
2007: LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles.
2008: LaDainian Tomlinson,
2009: LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Michael Bennett.