You can see the flashes in Ryan Mathews' game, suggesting he could be a star running back for the San Diego Chargers, which is what they and fans expected when he was taken with the 12th overall pick in 2010. However, injuries and inconsistent play have caused those flashes to be nothing more, mere fleeting glances at what he could be. Fans haven't been shy about expressing their disappointment in Mathews, but perhaps he's his own worst critic.
Mathews said on Wednesday that he's only been an "average back" up to this point in his career, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Kevin Acee. Most would probably agree.
Expected to step in right away for LaDainian Tomlinson in 2010, Mathews failed to reach 100 yards in a game until the season finale against the Broncos, when he rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns. For the season, he missed four games and had fewer yards than backup Mike Tolbert.
Expectations were raised in 2011 after Mathews eclipsed 1,000 yards in 14 starts, but a preseason injury in 2012 forced him out of four games again and he recorded a career-low 3.8 yards per carry.
Still, could poor performance really warrant such vitriol from the fans? From Acee's report:
"I’ve had people say they hope me and my mom get AIDS and die," Mathews said, offering an example of the multitude of hateful messages he has received via Twitter.
Though such comments are obviously inappropriate, Mathews said he expects more from himself on the field and he's ready to keep fighting. After the Chargers retained Ronnie Brown and signed Danny Woodhead to compete for carries this season, Mathews won't just need to stay healthy -- he'll need to be effective while forgetting about past San Diego heroes:
"I’m just gonna be myself," he said. "In practice, I’m just trying to focus on what I do. I’m not trying to focus on what would (Tomlinson) do? I’m just gonna go back to like I was playing at Fresno State -- just running the ball catching the ball and scoring touchdowns."
The first step, as always, will be staying healthy.