Hard Work Pays Huge Dividends For Matthews

Posted Nov 12, 2013

Young wide receiver exceeds Mike Sherman’s expectations.

Last year at this time, Rishard Matthews was still trying to grasp the Miami Dolphins offense as a rookie seventh-round draft pick. Last night, he graduated to the big time on Monday Night Football.

Matthews shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 120 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches in a heartbreaking 22-19 loss on the road. It as by far the best performance of his young career and the touchdown catches were his first two, but the California native and former teammate of Colin Kaepernick’s had to keep it in perspective.

“I’m definitely not a selfish player and I’m definitely glad to go out there and make plays and contribute as much as I could,” said Matthews, who entered the game with 10 catches for 117 yards. “But we’re playing this game to win and we definitely want to win from here on out and win every game that we play. Last night we weren’t able to execute and Tampa Bay played a good game.”

So while Matthews feels compelled to contain his enthusiasm in the wake of a defeat, his coaches and teammates are more than willing to give him his due and sing his praises. This is, after all, a player that was asked to fill the shoes of an accomplished veteran in Brandon Gibson after he suffered a season-ending knee surgery two weeks ago at the New England Patriots.

During his rookie season, Matthews was limited in terms of where he could line up in offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s offense because of his learning curve. He was either inactive or did not play in half of Miami’s 16 regular-season, but eight of his 11 catches came in the final three games for 86 of his 151 total yards, and then he intensified his work in practice and the film room so that he could be called upon more often this season.

“I have to be honest with you, Matthews has exceeded my expectations at that position,” Sherman said. “I see him more as an outside receiver than an inside receiver. The inside guys have to be nifty and he’s a little niftier than I gave him credit for. He kind of has this sleepy-eyed look to him that you’re not sure he’s always paying attention but apparently he has been and he’s doing a very good job, so I’m real proud of how he performed yesterday. But he’s stepped into that role and done a nice job for us so I’m real proud of him.”

Not only did Matthews show off some nifty moves in getting open for quarterback Ryan Tannehill and display the physicality he has come to be known for but he showcased some deceptive speed on his 19-yard scoring reception. After catching the ball in stride from Tannehill on the short left flat, Matthews looked like he was shot out of cannon on his way into the end zone.

“A lot of guys, they see my size and when I run or they watch me on film it seems like I’m running a little slower or smooth,” Matthews said. “But when we’re out there it’s a lot different and a lot of guys tell me that as well. I struggled last year learning the playbook and being able to play any position but this year I made sure to get in the playbook and make sure I knew every position so if any guy went down I’d be able to back them up. I think I gained a lot of confidence from the coaches.”

Ken O’Keefe is Miami’s wide receivers coach and is around him more than any other coach on the staff, so he was not at all surprised at what Matthews accomplished against the Bucs.

“His number one dominant trait really is catching the football and that’s the one thing when you put him on the field we can count him to catch the ball,” O’Keefe said. “If you talk to the other veteran guys at our position, they’ll be the first ones to tell you that he’s done a lot of growing up, he’s matured a lot over the last year and has taken his job a lot more seriously.

“Really what you saw last night was kind of a group effort by everybody in our room, including the veteran guys that have all worked with him, encouraged him and tried to guide him every step of the way because it’s not always easy. Rishard has done a good job of working himself back into shape after his (leg) injury and he’s become a more detailed player and really knows the system now, understands it and he can play all the positions now. That is extremely important to us as a football team.”

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