Can Ryan Mathews be Chargers' workhorse back?


Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The San Diego Chargers.


Under Pressure: Ryan Mathews

San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner told San Diego media that Mathews is going to get "everything he can handle" this year. Those words aren't as telling as the Chargers' actions this offseason.

Under Pressure

Around the League will examine one key player under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season:

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

Turner's seat is so hot that he can't feel it any more. If Turner could survive last season and keep his job, he should coach this season like he has nothing to lose. Turner's primary running back, however, is still trying to prove himself.

The Chargers let valuable backup Mike Tolbert walk away in free agency and didn't replace him. New fullback Le'Ron McClain and seventh-round draft pick Edwin Baker are weak backups. Turner is ready to give the ball all day to Mathews. As my friend, Evan Silva, points out, Turner has a long history of coaching workhorse backs. His primary backs have averaged 282 carries and 43 catches per season over the last 21 years.

The prevailing trend in the NFL is to break backfields into committees, but Turner is looking for a committee of one.

Can he deliver?

Mathews already is a better runner than people realize entering his third NFL season. He more than passes the eye test and proved last season that he can be productive. (He finished seventh in yards from scrimmage in just 14 games.) Few running backs combine his short-area quickness and burst. He can handle passing downs. Mathews can be a frustrating player to watch because he's inconsistent, but he has the total package to be a top-five back starting now.

The Chargers' offense runs through quarterback Philip Rivers, but Mathews will decide whether this offense is good or great.