The past two seasons have been tough on **Phidarian Mathis.**
Mathis, a second-round pick from 2022, was supposed to provide depth on the defensive line behind Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne by serving as the run-stopper who could hold up blocks and allow linebackers to make plays. He played four snaps as a rookie before tearing his meniscus and missing the rest of the season.
Flash forward to last August, and Mathis was back, fully healthy and showing improvement in practice. Then he injured his calf and sat out for most of training camp. He made the initial 53-man roster, but he was placed on Injured Reserve not long after that and missed half the season.
The constant cycle of progress and regression has been a theme for Mathis' professional career. The setbacks have prevented him from showing his full potential to help the team, and it's taken a toll on Mathis' physical and mental fortitude.
Still, Mathis knows he has much to be thankful for. Even though his impact was still nowhere close to where he wanted it to be, he played in 10 games with 262 snaps. With the chance to go into the offseason with a clean bill of health in front of him, he's ready to get back to work.
"I get to train all year, all summer long," Mathis said. "I just want to come back next year and just have a full year and turn everything around."
Disappointment has been a familiar feeling for Mathis since he joined the NFL. He tore his meniscus on the first play of Jacksonville Jaguars' second drive in 2022, and while he did make a full recovery that was "quicker than we really thought," it was still an arduous process that Mathis said was "a tough pill to swallow, for sure."
Ever the optimist, though, Mathis was confident at the end of the 2022 season that he would be back on the field by training camp.
"I'm gonna give it another try next year," he said. "I'm gonna come back even harder. So, everybody will see."
That's exactly what happened. Mathis participated in OTAs and minicamp, and when the first day of training camp came up on the calendar, he was suited up and stretching with the rest of his teammates.
And there were moments when Mathis looked like the player the Commanders' coaching staff hoped he would be until he suffered a calf injury early in camp. He missed all three of the Commanders' preseason games and was later put on Injured Reserve until Oct. 28.
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The amount of time and effort Mathis put into getting himself back to being healthy, only to go back on IR, weighed heavy on him.
"You've got people's expectations for you," Mathis said. "You've got family expectations. Then you got expectations for yourself. It was kind of overwhelming because you know what you can do, and then you keep having setback after setback. It's kind of a mental game for me.
"It took me to a deep depression," Mathis continued. "I was down all year long just knowing I was supposed to be out there, and I wasn't to be out there. So, it was just really a mental breakdown."
Mathis returned to the field for Washington's home matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8. He didn't record any tackles, but he did scoop up a fumble recovery at the Commanders' 7-yard line that kept the team's 11-point lead intact.
Mathis' first game in over a year wasn't the eye-popping return that he might have wanted, but it was still important to him.
"I got to play 10 games this year," Mathis said. "I'm very thankful for that. I came out healthy. I get to train all summer long just to come back and get better and just to put more on film. Just show everybody who I really am."
Mathis ended the season with eight tackles and a quarterback hit. As encouraging as it was for him to make some kind of contribution, those numbers are not up to the standard that he has for himself. The team also expects more from him as the No. 47 overall pick, and regardless of how many injuries he has dealt with, he is still expected to play a much larger role in the team's defensive front going forward.
Mathis knows that, and he intends to improve every aspect of his skillset in Year 3.
"I want to come back a different person," Mathis said. "Have a different mindset, different mentality ... I know I'm gonna come back a different guy, and I'm gonna put more on tape. I'm going to push. I'm going to work so hard until I can't no more. I know this is an important year for me just to show everybody who I really am."