Mathis: I play with a mean streak

The Carolina Panthers took a step to ensure the success of their running game in the upcoming season by getting back to what was successful in 2003; having guards that can run-block well. Carolina brought in free agent Mike Wahle to anchor the left guard position, and drafted Alabama guard Evan Mathis in the third round with aspirations that he'd someday be their stalwart on the right..

Mathis, the 6-5, 304 lb Guard from Homewood, AL made 47 consecutive starts during his career for the Crimson Tide. Evan is thought of as a versatile lineman, as he started most of his career at right tackle, only moving to left guard in his senior season. In his entire career with the Crimson Tide, Mathis only allowed 3.5 sacks.

"I can play any position on the line," Mathis said. "I think I'm more natural at guard, but in a pinch if I'm needed at center or tackle I can play those. I play with a mean streak. I play very aggressive. I like to lock onto the defender and drive him. And I finish my blocks well. I'm going to give all my effort all of the time."

Run-blocking and Carolina have been almost synonymous since John Fox and Dan Henning were hired in 2002. "Talent wise, I think I'm a very balanced player, but I love running the ball and I love run-blocking," Mathis told "I like being physical, I don't like sitting back and waiting for anything. If I would have sat down before the draft and thought of which team would be great for me to play on, the Carolina Panthers would have been #1."

However, the starting right guard position won't be just handed to Mathis. There's incumbent Tutan Reyes, who through mini and summer camps was with the starting unit, and Tupe Peko, the 5th year player claimed off of waivers from Indianapolis earlier this year, who started 8 games for the Colts.

But, while talking with Mathis, you quickly find out that just being in the NFL isn't satisfying enough for him. "I'm not the type of person that sits back and thinks I've gotten anywhere. I'm always trying to get better, so I never really let myself get comfortable where I am," Evan told us. "So as far as sitting back and saying "Oh, I'm in the NFL now, I made it", I won't do that until after the season. I'm going to try to establish myself as a starter and help this team out as much as I can."

Mathis loves the game so much, even stress fractures in both legs could not keep him off the field.

During the 2001 season, Mathis developed a stress fracture in his left tibia and played through excruciating pain the remainder of the season. He had a titanium rod placed down the bone the next spring to repair the injury. During the next season, Mathis developed the same injury in his right leg, and immediately after the season had the rod placed in that leg as well. The first three years of his collegiate career, Mathis played through horrible pain, but he wanted to play so badly that he didn't miss a game.

Worried that Mathis won't be quick enough? Mathis was one of the fastest offensive linemen at the last scouting combine, running a 4.9 40-yard-dash; Rods and all.

Obviously the Panthers think highly of Mathis, drafting him in the third round. As always, they have high expectations for one of their first-day picks. "Their expectations can never be as much as I expect out of myself," said Mathis. "I'm always going to try to be the best that I can be, no matter what. I'm not here to be in the league a couple years and get out… I am going to be here a long time and I want to have a very successful career."

Helping Mathis fine-tune his game will be Panthers OL Coach Mike Maser, who has coached some pro bowl caliber players such as Tony Boselli and Dermontti Dawson in Jacksonville, and has a great wealth of talent in Carolina with Mathis, Mike Wahle, Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton and Jeff Mitchell.

"I had 4 head coaches in college, so that's not good for your program," Mathis said. "I had three offensive line coaches, and they all taught different types of techniques. When you can learn and build on those, and evolve as a player as you apply the techniques and different strategies from different coaches, you become a total player. I will come up here, with everything I have under my belt, and learn under coach Maser and have him fine-tune and correct anything I don't do correct, and anything I don't do right, they are going to tell me how to do it so I can be successful."

And if Maser's tutelage isn't enough, there is the Carolina Defensive line to keep him on his toes.

"To have the opportunity to go against probably the best D-Line in the NFL every single day in practice, it's great for me to build myself as a player, and it'll make me much more prepared for this league."

-- Mike Miller contributed to this article.

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