Coach Speak: Joe Wade on Ryan Mathews

Without question, the most important newcomer in San Diego is first-round pick Ryan Mathews. Mathews is a gifted prospect, but questions remain about his durability and his ability to replace an all-time great. To get the answers to these and other questions, we chat with Fresno State running backs coach Joe Wade.

The San Diego Chargers traded up in the first round of this year's draft to select RB Ryan Mathews with the No. 12 overall pick. Mathews (6-foot, 220 pounds) comes off a stellar season in which he ran 276 times for 1,808 yards (6.6 ypc) and 19 scores.

Still, there are reasons why Mathews was considered by some to be a reach. He battled a rash of injuries during his college career (ankle, collarbone, knee, head) and authored just one dominant season. The Chargers, though, will give Mathews every chance to silence the doubters, as Coach Norv Turner predicts 250-plus touches for Mathews in 2010.

What will Mathews make of the golden opportunity? To shed some light on the matter, we check in with Fresno State running backs coach Joe Wade.

LaShana Marshburn: Tell us about your experience coaching Ryan?

RB Ryan Mathews
Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Joe Wade: It was a lot of fun. He's a talented young man who always worked hard during the offseason. Then, once we got into the season, he improved with each game. He gained confidence as his career went on and ended up having a really big senior year.

LM: That senior year included over 1,800 rushing yards. How was he so productive despite being the focal point of defenses?

JW: He led the nation in yards per game and was second in overall yards. It was a great experience to watch him. It helped that he stayed pretty healthy last season, other than the concussion, which cost him one game.

LM: How did the program at Fresno State prepare Ryan to step into an NFL huddle?

JW: The way Coach [Pat] Hill runs the program really emphasizes toughness. To play in the NFL, with 16 regular season games and 20 games overall (including the preseason), you have to show toughness. It will help you if you can play injured and show mental concentration over that course of time. There are a lot of demands expected to be met from the players [at Fresno State].

LM: How do you see him contributing in San Diego as a rookie?

JW: He has the ability to run the football. Also, I think he can protect the quarterback. There's not a down where you would need to take him out of the game and use a replacement. I would anticipate him being a primary back. Also, he has the ability to take the ball between the tackles, but also he can finish longs runs and run the ball outside. He is a well-rounded player who can do a little bit of everything.

LM: What is the biggest challenge awaiting Ryan this season?

JW: The biggest adjustment he is going to have to make is adjusting to a longer season. You're guaranteed to play 20 games; we play only 13. The key is to keep his concentration and stay healthy while playing for that long.

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