“I said it. I meant it. I’ll be back by training camp,” the Colts’ all-time leading sack man said Sunday night in a TV interview on WTHR-13, an NBC affiliate in Indianapolis.
Nobody personifies determination like No. 98, who went from being an unknown fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama A&M to a six-time Pro Bowl star, a respected team leader and one of the Colts’ most admired fan favorites.
Despite being undersized at 245 pounds, the outside linebacker’s relentless motor, burst of speed and ability to shed blockers as a pass rusher often demanded double teams. Question is, will his body cooperate? He’s 34 and coming back from a torn Achilles, a serious injury especially for a player his age. He hasn’t played a game since January of 2014.
During NFL owner’s meetings in March, Colts owner Jim Irsay tried to extend the possible recovery timetable in suggesting Mathis might not be back on the field until November. Another report said he suffered a setback in his rehabilitation, but his agent immediately refuted that claim.
A week after Irsay’s comment, Mathis told Sirius XM radio that August training camp is the goal.
“I should be clicking in camp, that's my plan," he said. "I'm a competitor. If I can get out there with one Achilles, I'll do it.”
Mathis, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2013, said Sunday he’s progressing well in his rehabilitation.
“I’m back running,” he said. “Training and rehab is full swing. I’m ahead of schedule and just trying to stay ahead of it.”
Mathis was suspended the first four games of 2014 for violating the NFL’ s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He apologized at the time, saying it was the result of testing positive for a fertility drug used successfully to get his wife pregnant.
He suffered the Achilles tendon tear while working out during his suspension last September in his hometown of Atlanta. It cost him the remainder of the season. Mathis had previously missed just 13 games in his 11-year career.
The Colts’ season opener is Sept. 13 at Buffalo, about a year after the injury. The team recently signed free-agent pass rusher Trent Cole to boost the pass rush. Cole has 85.5 career sacks from a decade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mathis has 111 career sacks.
The Colts have said he would not participate in organized team activities, an eight-week endeavor that concludes this week, or mandatory veteran’s mini-camp June 8-11.
Earlier this offseason, the team did not re-sign 14-year wide receiver Reggie Wayne. That makes Mathis the most tenured Colt on the roster.
Not even the birth of a daughter could diminish the frustration of watching his team play without him.
“It was very tough because I like to be in the fire with my guys,” Mathis told Sirius in March. “I'm not willing to do it this year. I want to get in and get my hands dirty again.”
While sidelined, Mathis signed a one-year contract extension through 2016. He’s set to count $7.47 million against the salary cap, which ranks third on the roster.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.