Healthy Rishard Matthews excited about Titans’ new offense
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee wide receiver Rishard Matthews has been in the NFL the past six seasons, and now the veteran is hoping his experience learning other offenses will help him get up to speed very quickly with the Titans’ newest scheme.
Matthews missed the Titans’ organized team activities, mandatory minicamp in June, training camp and first three preseason games with an undisclosed injury. He passed his physical Sunday and was removed from the physically unable to perform list then practiced Monday.
That left the receiver watching teammates practice, trying to learn new coordinator Matt LaFleur’s offense in meetings and walk-throughs without taking a single snap.
Now the 6-foot receiver who led Tennessee with 1,740 yards receiving over the past two seasons can take part in an offense that has him very excited.
“This is the longest I’ve been out of football,” Matthews said before practice. “It’s tough watching, but as far as the offense I’m really excited. I think the sky’s the limit for our group. We have a bunch of talented young players. I think Coach LaFleur has explained that a lot of people will be moving around, and people aren’t going to be able to get a beat on us so easy, so that’s also exciting.”
That’s a big change from last December when Matthews argued for the Titans to use a no-huddle or quick-tempo offense to give quarterback Marcus Mariota more freedom with the team mired in a three-game skid that cost Tennessee the AFC South title. He also said then that the Titans needed more creativity on offense and work more to create better matchups.
The Titans fired coach Mike Mularkey after the season ended in January and hired first-time head coach Mike Vrabel. He brought in LaFleur, who also had interviewed for the head coaching job.
With new coaches and a new offense, Matthews found himself struggling with an undisclosed injury that he said was not related to an injured hamstring that cost him two games last season. He watched the offseason program from April into mid-June and started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The Titans weren’t too concerned about Matthews’ return, signing him to an extension through 2019 last week.
Vrabel has been impressed by what he’s seen of the receiver who ranks second on the Titans only to three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker with 118 catches over the past two seasons. Vrabel called Matthews’ attitude “great” and a good reminder to younger players how to be professional at working hard to get back into the lineup. The coach also likes how Matthews plays.
“There’s a toughness to it. There’s a grit to it,” Vrabel said. “I think Rishard would tell you that he’s not the fastest, not the biggest, not the quickest, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of production, and there’s some consistency there which is really valued.”
Matthews, who started his NFL career with four seasons in Miami, has started 20 of his 30 games since signing with Tennessee in March 2016. He ranks ninth in the NFL averaging 14.7 yards per catch among players with at least 100 catches over the past two seasons.
He’s also the key veteran in a very young receiving group. Corey Davis is expected to be the No. 1 receiver after being the fifth player drafted in 2017, but is still looking for his first touchdown catch in the regular season. Taywan Taylor is going into his second season, and Tajae Sharpe spent his second season on injured reserve last year.
“I’m just thankful to be back now,” Matthews said.
NOTES: LB Brian Orakpo, Walker and rookie LB Rashaan Evans all returned to practice Monday. Orakpo originally hurt a shoulder July 27, and Walker was hurt Aug. 16 in a joint practice with Tampa Bay. Evans returned to practice last week but left early. “It’s good to see those guys back out there and working and just fresh faces,” Vrabel said.