History lesson with Chargers HC Norv Turner: He likes his backs to run a lot, and he doesn't care if the rest of the league is going to this consistent two-back business. When the Chargers let Mike Tolbert go to Carolina in free agency and didn't replace him with a prominent back as complement to third-year man Ryan Mathews, that sent the message about Mathews' role to the team loud and clear. "At that moment, I knew I'd be the guy,'' Mathews said.
Look at Turner's track record. When he took over as Jimmy Johnson's offensive coordinator in 1991, Emmitt Smith's carries rose from 241 in 1990 to 365 in Turner's first year. In 2002 in Miami, the Dolphins had just acquired Ricky Williams and had just signed Turner as coordinator. Williams had his two biggest seasons for carries (383, 392) with Turner in Miami. And Frank Gore hit his career rushing high for attempts (312 carries) in Turner's only 49er season. Last week, Turner said in San Diego he was getting Mathews ready "for everything he can handle.'' Sounds very much like Mathews, if he stays upright, will get his 300 carries, and then some.
"Coach Turner's coached a lot of great backs,'' Mathews told me the other day. "He's told me I remind him of Ricky Williams, which is the kind of back I would like to be. In college [Fresno State] I was a workhorse back. I believe I can do that here. My training has really improved, and I've set high standards for myself. I shouldn't come off the field at all this year.''
That would mean Mathews, who has had 72 catches combined in his first two years, could have that many this season alone. If he plays on most third downs, particularly with Philip Rivers needing to throw hot because he could be under duress early if the new-look line struggles, Mathews could approach 400 touches.
The Chargers intend to feed Mathews as much as any back in the league. It'll be up to him to handle it.
Mathews is currently RB5 in 4for4's rankings. We're expecting him to be productive in a big workload, but our one concern is his durability. However, no RBs are completely immune to the injury bug -- it comes with the territory.