The Washington Commanders had a void at defensive tackle with Matt Ioannidis and Time Settle moving on to different teams this offseason, and it was expected that second-round pick Phidarian Mathis had the skill set to fill it.
Almost everything on Mathis' college resume pointed to that conclusion. He had the size, mentality and ability to clog up double teams that Washington was looking for, and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio even went as far as to say that Mathis was "our third legitimate tackle body that we have in the building" back in May.
Washington did not get the chance to see what Mathis could add to the rotation during the regular season, unfortunately, because he only played a total of four snaps. He suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and since then, fans have not seen much of him.
During the Commanders' locker room clean out day, Mathis provided an update on how his recovery has gone over the past five months, and everything has gone according to plan.
"I've been here the whole time," Mathis said of rehabbing in the facility. "I trust the trainers in there. We've been making great progress."
Mathis sustained his injury on the first play of the Jaguars' second drive. The reports were that the second-round pick tore his meniscus, which can take up to six months to heal. Fortunately, Mathis was expected to make a full recovery.
Mathis said the Commanders' trainers helped him get healthy "quicker than we really thought," but it was still a long process that was a struggle.
"It was very hard to take, a tough pill to swallow, for sure," Mathis said. "The first couple of weeks, I was down, I was out, but I just put it in God's hands and let him handle the rest."
Things began to improve for Mathis as he continued to trust the training staff. They helped him stay focused on his goals and kept him motivated through all the work they had him do.
From what Rivera has heard, all the reports from the staff have been positive.
"He's been doing great," Ron Rivera said on Jan. 6. "He comes in every morning, gets his workout in. He's pretty much done with the basic rehab. Now it's all just maintenance. But I got a chance to really watch him work out and see him developing and working on his explosiveness, his overall strength, core strength. I've gotten a lot of good reports on him as far as those things are concerned."
Whenever Mathis does come back to the field, he can get back to work doing what Rivera and the Commanders expected when they drafted him, which is to absorb double teams and allow linebackers to make plays.
"And that's one of the things that I always go back to back in the day, watching guys who ran well as linebackers," Rivera said. "That's because they had people in front of them that really knew how to absorb those blocks."
Washington found an answer later in the season with John Ridgeway filling his role, but it is clear that the Commanders could still use his skills. After all, he was coming off a season with Alabama that saw him record a career-high 53 tackles to go with nine sacks.
And Mathis is already looking forward to what he can bring to the defensive line in his second season.
"I'm gonna give it another try next year," Mathis said. "I'm gonna come back even harder. So, everybody will see."