Sports Out West

Ryan Mathews, Chargers run game focused on moving forward

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

For Ryan Mathews, the 2013 NFL season is about moving forward – in more ways than one.

Mathews found and exploded through holes along the line at Sunday’s training camp workouts, the Chargers’ fourth this week and second in pads. In moving forward out of the backfield, Mathews is also leaving past disappointments in his rearview mirror. Struggles, including injuries, plagued Mathews through his first three seasons with the Chargers.

“I’m done talking about injuries,” Mathews told Sports Out West on Sunday. “That’s the past.”

A healthy Mathews displayed the dynamic play-making abilities that made him a standout at Fresno State, and first round draft pick in 2010. His downhill rushing approach elicited some of the loudest cheers from the 3,000-plus fans in attendance. Mathews is centerpiece to a Charger backfield stocked with new additions. One is Danny Woodhead, the multitalented back acquired from the New England Patriots in free agency.

Woodhead impressed in Sunday’s workouts, showing off his versatility with a leaping, one-handed grab on one pass play.

“He’s an athlete. He can do anything: run the ball, catch the ball. We can put him in the slot,” Mathews said. “Having a guy like that in the backfield scares people.”

Mathews said he could feed off Woodhead’s multi-dimensional style in a similar vein as his work with change-of-pace teammate Robbie Rouse at Fresno State. Running back depth is going to be a critical building block for the Chargers’ new-look offense.

“We have a lot of awesome backs with me, Ronnie [Brown], Danny, Le’Ron [McClain],” he said. “We’re all versatile backs, so we’re all going to be fresh.”

Others competing for roles include rookie Michael Hill and second-year backs Fozzy Whittaker and Edwin Baker

Defensive end Kendall Reyes offered perspective on the running back depth from the other side of the ball.

“They’re all fast, and they all run hard,” he said. “We see the best backs every day in practice.”

Those ball carriers are operating behind a restructured offensive line. Porous play up front was largely responsible for San Diego’s No. 27 ranked rushing attack a season ago. Like other struggles, Mathews said the line’s problems are in the past.

“They’re doing a great job, moving people out of the way and giving me a hole,” he said. “The only way they can go is up. They’re doing an awesome job right now, so I’m excited for the season to see how good they can be.”

 Restructuring the line was a pressing priority for the new coaching staff. Alabama product D.J. Fluker’s selection in the first round of April’s draft was one such move.

Fluker’s addition at tackle moved Jeromey Clary to the interior of the line.

“We’re going to play the best five guys,” head coach Mike McCoy said. “The big thing we stress…is position flexibility. You’ve got to be able to move around.

“[Clary] is one of our best five,” McCoy continued. “So we want to move [him] inside, and go from there. We’re not going to eliminate [him] from going back outside [to tackle]. He says, ‘I just want to help the team win,’ and that’s the type of guy we want around here.”

Such an attitude is also key to jump-starting the Charger run game as a whole, and Mathews individually as they continue moving forward toward 2013. 

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

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Kyle Kensing

Kyle Kensing is the editor and founder of SaturdayBlitz.com, and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. His credits include CBS Sports, ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports, and is a columnist on the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.