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Matthews Takes On Increased Role At Wide Receiver

Posted Oct 30, 2013

Gibson’s injury puts onus on second-year player to deliver.



Circumstances can change in an instant for NFL football players, which is why they have to be ready for anything and capable of balancing their emotions with their duties. Rishard Matthews is finding that out now.

As soon as Matthews saw fellow wide receiver Brandon Gibson hobble off the field in the first quarter of last week’s Miami Dolphins game at the New England Patriots, he knew his role would be increased. Gibson’s torn patellar tendon landed him on Injured Reserve yesterday, meaning those final three quarters were just the beginning of Matthews’ expected workload.

“It’s definitely tough for me. Brandon is definitely a leader in the room and I was learning a lot from him being a professional on and off the field,” said Matthews, who was a seventh-round draft choice last year. “It’s a big loss and at the same time I’m next up in line and I’ve got to step up for the offense.”

Not that Matthews needs to be reminded about the importance of producing in Gibson’s role as the slot receiver tomorrow night at Sun Life Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals, but teammate Mike Wallace has taken it to another level. The entire receiver group is a tight one so they joke with each other a lot and create inside jokes, which explains why Wallace tells Matthews at every opportunity that he “needs to step up.”

The key thing to recognize is that Matthews is not a Gibson clone and he brings different attributes to the field, starting with his physicality. Wallace described Matthews as having “Bam Bam” strength, referring to the iconic Flintstones character, and he has total confidence in him.

“I don’t think anyone needs to tell him because I think he’s heard it like 50 times already that we’re counting on him and that we need him,” Wallace said. “That’s my guy. I think he’s going to make plays because he’s that type of player. He’s strong and he just pushes guys around. Obviously, Brandon’s more of a technician type of player, Rishard is a raw strength type guy. They’ll get to the same spot but they’ll get there differently. Brandon’s going to outwork you and out-craft you but Rishard’s just going to maul you and push you around to get to the same spot on the field.”

Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t hesitate to target Matthews at New England after Gibson went out, going his direction six times and completing three of them for 30 yards. One of those was a 20-yard completion and Matthews had another catch taken away by a ruling that he didn’t get both feet down inbounds. It would have gone for 23 yards at a time when the game was tied at 17-17.

The throw that Tannehill made on that play was the kind of throw he likes to make to Matthews because he knows the 6-foot, 210-pound athletic receiver will win the fight for the ball with the cornerback.

“He’s our most physical receiver, physical off the line and able to go up and use strong hands to catch a ball higher,” Tannehill said. “I think you saw that down the left sideline on the last game. It didn’t get called a catch, but he went up over a guy and caught the ball.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin saw the same thing.

“I like what he did in the game when he came in,” Philbin said. “I think I’ve said a number of times he’s a very competitive guy, he has good physical strength and plucks the ball out of the air well. He likes to play, he likes to compete, I think he’ll do fine. He does a good job, in the middle of the field he attacks vertically well. He’s got good ability to get out of cuts quickly and he catches the ball.”

Since Matthews and Tannehill were part of the same draft class they have more familiarity with each other than Tannehill has with Gibson and Wallace. Philbin knows that and he also knows how much work Matthews gets on the practice field with his quarterback, so he doesn’t expect it to take much time at all for the two to get in a rhythm and that’s precisely what Tannehill believes.

“It takes some time and some reps,” said Tannehill, who was developing a good chemistry with Gibson through the first seven games. “Obviously, he’s been here for the past two years, so while he hasn’t been getting the majority of the reps, he’s been in this offense and been working with the ones periodically throughout. It is a chemistry thing in the slot knowing when uncovered hot throws (and) timing in-and-out. But I feel good about it. He has a good handle on it.”

That’s very important in the type of offense being run by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman because it calls for Tannehill to spread the ball around and utilize the slot receiver more perhaps than other teams. So having reliable hands is a must and Matthews revealed that asset as a rookie when he caught 11 passes for 151 yards, most of them near the end of the season when he got more involved.

To that end, Matthews’ confidence in his hands and in his ability to make the tough catches over the middle or in traffic near the sideline and in the red zone is something that will benefit him in his new role.

“Coaches like guys that can go out there and catch the ball with their hands and that’s what I try to do,” he said. “I try to catch every ball thrown my way and just make a play when I can. Since OTAs I’ve been backing up each position and I’ve been playing this position since last year and it’s just go out there and try to make plays and catch the ball when it’s thrown my way.”

Sounds simple enough.
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