Meet the New Steeler: DE Ricardo Mathews
Last season Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward played an unbelievable number of snaps for the Steelers—88% of them for Heyward, almost 79% for Tuitt. Part of the reason was, of course, that they were the best options. But part of the reason they didn’t get more time off more often was that they were more or less the only options.
This season may look rather different for them. It wasn’t looking good at first. The Steelers didn’t re-sign Cam Thomas, something which was rather expected in the face of his ineffectiveness. They also let Steve McLendon walk, and he signed with the Jets. This took the backups from “dangerously thin” to “practically non-existent.”
The roster looks rather full of DEs and DTs now, naturally. There are seven defensive ends and five defensive tackles on the roster. The tackles, in addition to Big Dan McCullers, who many of us have great hopes for, are the newly drafted Javon Hargrave, Devaunte Sigler, a UDFA signing, Roy Philon, a guy they looked at in camp last year and then released, and Lavon Hooks, who was in the Packers training camp last year but was cut.
As for the DEs, there is, besides Heyward and Tuitt, Caushad Lyons, who spent last season on the practice squad after being picked up off waivers in September, last year’s sixth round pick L.T. Walton, and UDFA signings Johnny Maxey and Giorgio Newberry. And, of course, today’s subject, Ricardo Mathews.
Mathews was picked in the 7th round of the 2010 draft by the Colts and played out his rookie contract there. He was then picked up by the Chargers after spending training camp in Houston and played in San Diego for two seasons. He started seven games in 2015 and recorded a career-high AV of 4, according to Pro Football Reference. Oddly enough, he was replacing Cam Thomas, who came to Pittsburgh in 2014. Thomas also posted an AV of 4, in 2014, but last year was awarded a 2.
Mathews apparently loved San Diego, and was an asset there, according to this ESPN article from last June by beat writer Eric D. Williams:
Ricardo Mathews doesn’t know where he gets his boundless energy. But he’s always been someone who plays with tireless effort, and that energy is what got him on the field for the San Diego Chargers last season.
“From the past, I’ve come to see that everybody feeds off of that,” Mathews said. “It’s important to me because I don’t want to depend on anybody else to get me going. So I’d rather be the one having all of the energy – because I’ve got it – and share it with the rest of the team.”
As I looked at Mathews resume I think I see where the energy comes from. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and besides excelling in football he reached the state championships in track and was a conference champion wrestler.
One of the most interesting parts of the article was Mathews’ reason for being thrilled (other than the obvious one) to have a new contract (San Diego had just signed him to a one-year deal):
After taking a couple weeks to learn his role in the defense, Mathews made an immediate impact when the Chargers put him in the game. In just 278 snaps defensively, Mathews finished with six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and six quarterback hits.
“It’s still a work in progress because I wasn’t in the offseason program last year like I am right now,” Mathews said. “So it’s still building if you ask me. But the role I played, it was crucial to me because that’s what I have to do uphold my side to being on this team…”
“It’s real big,” Mathews said about staying in San Diego. “I didn’t know it was a pet peeve until I got here, but learning a totally different defense is really hard. Coming from Indianapolis, then going to the Texans and coming here, it was definitely a struggle. And honestly it was one of my biggest adjustments for me to overcome going through those different teams.
“I don’t care who you are, unless you are signing for $30-plus million somewhere else, you don’t want to go to a whole new team and just learn a whole new defense.”
And yet, here he is, with a new defense to learn, and I’m sure he would be the first to tell you it’s better than the alternative of being a “free agent.” He might find the new defense a bit easier to learn at this point, as Coach Butler has apparently done a great job of paring the defense down to better accommodate newcomers, whether newly drafted or newly signed.
Assuming Mathews makes it past the final roster cuts, I’m pretty sure I know where the Steelers will be eating when they play the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Mathews, who played college ball at the University of Cincinnati, where he majored in Criminal Justice, is the co-owner of a Jamaican restaurant run by former teammate Leo Morgan, a native of Jamaica. The restaurant (Island Frydays) has been in business for 10 years now, and received a seal of approval when the Food Network featured it on their popular program “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
A September 2015 article from the Chargers’ website tells the story:
“Leo [Morgan] is a brother to me,” Mathews said. “I came up with him and he kind of mentored me in college. He worked at a bank for a little while and got me right financially while I was still in college. We built a trust and a bond with each other and then a couple years later, we made it happen.”
When they were at UC, Morgan, the chef of the two, would cook his native Jamaican food for Mathews and his teammates. Soon enough the side project turned into a full-time operation and the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.
“Leo would cook for us on Fridays,” Mathews said. “He didn’t have a restaurant for real but he would get up and cook from like 4am – 12pm. He got everybody’s order in and shipped it all across campus for players, students, even some teachers until they eventually built up. You’d place an order and you’d get it on Friday.”
Here’s hoping Mathews’ “infectious energy” and obvious business sense will combine to help the Steelers’ defense take care of business this coming season.