Robert Mathis sounds like he has adjusted his expectation to be “clicking in camp” in his recovery from a torn left Achilles tendon.
The Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker said Thursday he expects to be ready by September.
”It's getting there," Mathis told the Associated Press during his annual celebrity softball game for charity at Victory Field. “I’m not going to rush it, but I’ll be ready in September. I’m going to work hard to get back to my old self and I’ll leave it at that.”
Four days earlier, the six-time Pro Bowl star made a TV appearance on WTHR-13, NBC’s Indianapolis affiliate, and said he was ahead of schedule.
“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.”
The Colts are always cautious with injuries, so it stands to reason they won’t want to rush their 34-year-old franchise sack leader back when the team starts training camp on Aug. 1 at Anderson University.
Last year, wide receiver Reggie Wayne was determined to test a surgically repaired right knee during training camp, but the Colts played it safe. He saw limited practice time and played in only one preseason game. Wayne, who turned 36 during his 14th NFL season, suffered a torn triceps seven games into the season and wasn’t the same. The team didn’t re-sign him.
Mathis is signed through 2016 — he agreed to a one-year extension while missing last season. He counts $7,470,586 against the salary cap in 2015 and $5 million in 2016. But if his body doesn’t cooperate, the team can save the $5 million by cutting him before June 1, 2016.
During March’s Annual League Meetings in Phoenix, Colts owner Jim Irsay suggested Mathis might not be ready until well into the season.
“We look for Robert Mathis at some point to re-emerge,” Irsay said, in quotes posted on colts.com. “It may not be until November. We don’t know yet in terms of his progress.”
Irsay might have been suggesting a worst-case scenario, since his 2013 NFL sack champion is such an important player and his status has been a continual question from reporters and anxious fans.
But Mathis sounded encouraged in Sunday’s TV appearance.
“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 serving a four-game suspension for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing drugs when he suffered the torn Achilles during a September workout in his hometown of Atlanta. He spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. It’s the first time he’s suffered a serious injury in his 163-game career. He had missed just 13 games in 11 seasons before 2014.
Mathis had 19.5 sacks in 2013, boosting his career total to 111. When healthy, he often demands double teams in the pass rush. His presence and productivity would ideally help teammates in a blitzing 3-4 scheme get their share of impactful pass rushes.
Outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome led the team with 6.5 sacks as a rookie last season. Outside linebacker Erik Walden had six, a career-high. The team also hopes former first-round pick Bjoern Werner can be healthy for the first time after registering 6.5 sacks in two seasons impacted by injuries.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky have expressed confidence that the team will generate an effective pass rush regardless of when Mathis returns. The team had 42 sacks with Mathis in 2013 and 41 without him last season, when the Colts reached the AFC Championship Game.
Neither Mathis nor Werner have participated in the team’s offseason training activities, an annual eight-week workout routine. Neither are expected to practice during next week’s veteran mini-camp from Monday through Thursday.
Mathis hasn’t done any locker-room interviews during OTAs and hasn’t spoken much about his recovery until recently.
The Colts open the regular season Sept. 13 at the Buffalo Bills.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.