Mathews Eases Back into Eagles Offense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - On a day where the Eagles scaled it back and took off the pads, the attention turned toward Ryan Mathews, the team's projected starting running back who missed the first 10 days of camp with an ankle injury suffered while training away from the team.
The former first-round pick in San Diego returned to the practice field Friday in a limited fashion, working in some individual drills before taking part in Philadelphia's 10/10/10 practice on Saturday, something that excited offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
"I know it was only a 10/10/10 day – but I don’t know if you guys saw it too, but he just looks explosive out there," Reich said when discussing Mathews. "He looked explosive; he looked quick; he was seeing things. ... He looks good. He’s an explosive, physical runner. You want to get a guy like that, with the track record he has and the way he’s run the ball over the last few years, we want to get him as many touches as we can."
That's not all that surprising because the powerful 6-foot, 220-pound back has the skill set of a bell cow, finishing fourth in the NFL last season at 5.08 yards per rush despite playing in Chip Kelly's inside- and outside-zone fueled running attack which doesn't necessarily play to the strengths of a player who describes himself as a one-cut, downhill runner.
Doug Pederson's offense strikes Mathews as a better fit.
"It's a west-coast offense. I like it," the RB said after practice. "They're doing a real good job of installing plays that benefit the players and I think that's going to be real good for us."
The problem for Mathews, of course, has always been injuries and through his first five NFL seasons in San Diego, the Fresno State native managed to play in all 16 games just oncce, producing at a Pro-Bowl level with 1,255 yards. In his six full seasons, including 2015 in Philadelphia, Mathews has missed 23 games, an average of nearly four per season.
"Sometimes it's the luck of the draw," Mathews said of his history. "I think I have done a pretty good job this year of taking care of my body. It's football and (injuries) are going to happen so I'm not worried about it and I don't think they (the Eagles) are worried about it either."
As a big, physical runner, Mathews is prone to taking punishment, however, but that's something he's not about to change.
"I'm not one to shy away from contact," he admitted. "I like to be physical and everything and try to impose my will. I think that's one thing (the Eagles) like about me so I am just going to try to keep doing what I do."
That's something the Eagles would love to see because a backfield with Mathews carrying the load and Darren Sproles as the change-up could be one of the league's most dynamic.
"Two totally different backs," Mathews said when asked to describe the dichotomy. "However (the team) wants us to complement each other is what we'll do."
In a best-case scenario, that's a thunder-and-lightning setup in which Mathews provides the physical presence and Sproles counters with his amazing quickness out of the backfield.
To do that, though, Mathews needs to stay on the field and right now he's back at 100 percent.
"I feel good," he said. "The training staff and everybody did a great job just getting me back ready and healthy."
SATURDAY NOVACARE NOTES:
- On the injury front, cornerback Nolan Carroll, who was given a veteran day off on Friday, was back at practice, as was tight end Zach Ertz despite a concussion scare. Safety Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), wide receiver Jordan Matthews (left knee), running back Wendell Smallwood (quad), safety Rodney McLeod (funeral), corner JaCorey Shepherd (hamstring), receiver Hunter Sharp (hamstring), and defensive end Marcus Smith (concussion) all missed the scaled-down session.
-The pads are expected to go back on Sunday as the Eagles continue to prepare for their preseason opener next Thursday day against Tampa Bay and Ertz, who complained about the low hits of rookies Jalen Mills and Blake Countess on Friday, claimed things might get a bit chippy.
-The play of the day was a pinpoint throw from Carson Wentz to rookie running back Cedric O'Neal on a wheel route with Countess trailing in coverage. Although the 10-10-10 version of practice isn't designed to be competitive, the pass was everything you want and need from Wentz, who showed off his arm strength and accuracy.
-The effort to manufacture touches for receiver Josh Huff continues with looks from the backfield in an effort to get him away from press coverage, something he struggles with.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen