Is Mathis Still Elite?

There was little to be pleased with last year if you were a Jacksonville Jaguars fan, player, or coach. The reemergence of Rashean Mathis though was definitely something to hang your hat on. If the corner can stay healthy in 2009, the Jaguars might be able to bounce back on defense.

Jacksonville fans had to look high and far last season to find something positive to say about the team's defense. The Jaguars had a difficult time getting much accomplished on that side of the ball, as one side of the field was perpetually picked on by opposing quarterbacks.

Yes, the disappointment of free agent acquisition Drayton Florence will be hard to forget, but like cornerbacks, the franchise must have a short memory and move on. It's unclear as of now whether Brian Williams or Derek Cox will man the number two corner position, but one thing is certain; the Jaguars appear to have their franchise corner back in full form on the opposing side.

Rashean Mathis was an instant success for Jacksonville. A local star, the then safety was taken out of Bethune-Cookman in the second round of the NFL draft and was converted to starting corner midway through his rookie year. The All-Pro corner has never looked back since then and has been one of the premier corners in the league during this decade.

"From day one he was a mature young man," said Jacksonville head coach, Jack Del Rio. "He came in here very mature. He continues to be that guy for us. He's got elite ball skills."

Now at the age of 28, Mathis has seen more than his fair share of success in Jacksonville, but has also seen some rough times over the past two years.

After a career year in 2006 in which he picked off eight passes and earned All-Pro honors, Mathis was far from the same player in 2007, as he was hampered by injuries for a good part of the season. Although he was tough and played for 14 games, he managed just one interception.

Mathis' down year and his dismantling against the Patriots in the playoffs, a game in which Tom Brady absolutely dissected Mathis' side of the field (although it is unfair to blame the poor coverage in that game completely on Mathis), many wondered if Mathis had taken a step back and if he would ever be the same player; then 2008 came along.

Jacksonville's defense was perhaps the worst the town had seen in the Jack Del Rio era and a lot of that was due to chemistry issues and the poor play from Florence, which conversely affected free safety Reggie Nelson, who was caught out of position time after time last year. Mathis, however, stayed strong and was a positive for the team, as he had four interceptions on the year, two of which were taken back for touchdowns.

Unfortunately, injuries reared their ugly head in again for Mathis, as he missed the team's final four games of the season, although some of that might have been precautionary as the season was virtually over for the Jaguars.

That leads to the question, will Rashean have to be healthy to be the same guy he once was?

"He'll be there for us; he always is," added Del Rio.

In order for the team to bounce back in 2009, Mathis must play like his old self and he must stay injury free. If last year proved anything, it was that heading into his seventh season, Mathis certainly has the ability to still be great.

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