Mathews Eager to Replace His Idol

The Chargers' two biggest needs entering the draft were clear: running back and defensive tackle. After the first round, it was apparent which trumped the other. Hello, Ryan Mathews.

The Chargers, anchored at the No. 28 overall spot, shot up the draft board 16 positions to draft Mathews. However, getting the Fresno State star was expensive, as the Chargers surrendered quite a ransom to make this Bulldog a Bolt.

The Dolphins flipped first-round and fourth-round spots with the Chargers for San Diego's second rounder and linebacker Tim Dobbins. The Chargers also acquired Miami's sixth-round pick.

That's a lot. But according to coach Norv Turner it was worth it.

"When you see this guy play, you'll understand why we made this deal," Turner said. "I know our offensive line is going to be thrilled to get him here. I think Ryan's going to be excited to be here when he gets around our guys. He knows we're a good football team. He knows we're a very good offensive football team."

But it's an offensive attack which leaned heavily in one direction - passing. While there is no discounting that Philip Rivers is among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, the Chargers running game was ranked near the bottom in every significant category.

In Mathews, who left school a year early, they get a running back who led the nation in rushing yards per game. Mathews, who rushed for 19 touchdowns last year, will try and replace LaDainian Tomlinson. It's neat because Tomlinson is Mathews' idol.

"He's my favorite running back," Mathews said. "It's really an honor. You can't fill shoes like that; LaDainian wore his own shoes. He is great and he is really something else."

What Mathews supplies is the every-down back the Chargers seek. While Darren Sproles is a fantastic third-down runner and a threat on returns, pointing his slight frame toward the line's interior is useless.

And while he mimicked Tomlinson, Mathews will run more inside than the ex-Charger great.

"I tried to model myself after L.T. but he's a different guy," said Mathews, who rushed for 3,280 yards at Fresno State. "My style is more in between the tackles a little.

"I'm fast enough to get around the corner, I have great vision, I hit the hole pretty well and I think I'm just an all-round running back.

"I think with me and Sproles back there it is really going to change a lot. It's going to be a great combination I think and something special to watch."

And while it came at a high cost, the Chargers can at least scratch off their biggest need. For Turner, when Mathews came aboard it came with a familiar feeling. Back when he was the Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2001, Turner wore a similar smile when another Western Athletic Conference running back was selected.

"I was here when we drafted L.T. and I remember how excited I was that day," Turner said. "I'm equally excited to get Ryan in here. He's extremely special and is a complete back. He has great feet and great vision."

The Chargers' sights - and it can't be made any clearer - are set on the Super Bowl. They have been eliminated from the playoffs the past two years, in part, because their running game wasn't effective.

They hope that changes with the move of going from Tomlinson to Mathews. They certainly weren't shy about paying the freight to make it happen.

"It makes me feel great," Mathews said. "They could have had just held back until the 28th pick and crossed their fingers I would be there. But they really took a stand and it really shows me a lot, it really does."

Soon it will be time for Mathews to show the Chargers that they didn't make a mistake.

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