Eagles' Mathis overdue some recognition

"I'm all-in every game, no matter what," Birds left offensive guard Evan Mathis said. He could be a Pro-Bowl selection. YONG KIM / Staff
"I'm all-in every game, no matter what," Birds left offensive guard Evan Mathis said. He could be a Pro-Bowl selection. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: October 27, 2013

There's been a joke among the Eagles offensive linemen that Evan Mathis has a personal stake in Pro Football Focus, the website that compiles advanced statistics and ranks players.

For the last three years, Mathis has been rated the best left guard and among the best linemen in the NFL by the site's amateur evaluators. The Eagles line could struggle in pass protection and fail to open holes in the run game, as they did earlier this month against the New York Giants, and Mathis would still receive a positive rating.

Mathis is good, his teammates tease, but that good?

Whether or not much stock can be put in PFF's rankings, Mathis has been the Eagles' most consistent linemen the last three seasons.

And yet, still missing from the 31-year-old's resumé is some recognition from the league. Despite being named to PFF's and other publications' all-pro teams, Mathis has yet to be voted into the NFL's Pro Bowl. He was a third alternate last season.

"I want to get in," Mathis said this week. "But it's not something I dwell on or think about. It's not going to change my preparation. I'm all-in every game no matter what. It would be nice to get it."

Mathis could strengthen the argument with a strong showing in Sunday's rematch against the Giants. The entire offensive line is looking to rebound from a run-blocking effort that yielded only 10 yards rushing in the second half of the Eagles' 36-21 victory on Oct. 6.

Center Jason Kelce had the most trouble against the Giants' slanting defensive tackles, but there was more to the second-half struggles on the ground. Michael Vick left late in the first half with a hamstring strain.

But Vick is back and will start on Sunday after a two-game hiatus. The Eagles listed him as probable on Friday's injury report, but a league source told The Inquirer on Tuesday that the quarterback will start.

Nick Foles, as expected, was listed as out with a concussion. Foles was knocked out of Sunday's loss to the Cowboys. Rookie Matt Barkley, who replaced Foles, will be the backup for the third straight week.

All it takes is one hamstring tweak to be thrust into the spotlight, as the persistent Mathis knows all too well. After six journeyman seasons, he signed with the Eagles in 2011 looking for another opportunity to start. He got it during the preseason when right tackle Ryan Harris injured his back and longtime left guard Todd Herremans was moved to right tackle.

"I was excited," Mathis said. "I was like, 'This is it. This is what I've been working for. It's time to do it.' Ever since then I've been taking advantage. I think a lot of missed opportunities early on kind of fuels the fire to never let it go again."

Mathis has missed only one game over the last three seasons, and there seems to be little doubt he'll be back next season and beyond - he's signed through 2016 - even though he turns 32 next week.

"You can talk about age all you want, but the moment I lose some strength or lose a step, then we can start talking," Mathis said. "Until then, watch me, I can still move."

Drafted by the Panthers in the third round of the 2005 draft, Mathis' "career story is a weird one," as he likes to say. The annotated version:

2005: He played nine games as a rookie.

2006: He started 15 games and "had a decent year," but the coaching staff was turned over in the offseason and the new offensive line coach wanted bigger guards.

2007: Mathis was moved to tackle and "hardly played."

2008: He bulked up to 320, was moved to center and eventually cut. Did he think his career was over? "No. I always knew what I was going to do." The Dolphins picked him up and then the Bengals.

2009: He came into Bengals training camp back at his normal playing weight. "If I'm like 296-301, I can be myself. I can get on people fast. I can run with linebackers. And I'm strong as [heck]." Mathis didn't win the job, but he was inserted into the lineup when the starting left guard went down. He suffered a high ankle sprain, though, and played in a rotation when he returned.

2010: Mathis tore a calf in the offseason and never caught up.

2011: A free agent, he signed with the Eagles after the lockout partly because offensive line coach Howard Mudd liked athletic linemen. Mudd called him after the first preseason game and told him he was starting. "I was like, 'You made a good decision,' " Mathis said.

It was the best decision the Eagles made during that fateful Dream Team-scarred preseason.

Thornton questionable

The Eagles listed defensive Cedric Thornton as questionable. He was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but was expected to start Sunday. Safety Patrick Chung (shoulder) was also questionable. Aside from Vick, the following players were probable: cornerback Bradley Fletcher (knee), punter Donnie Jones (left foot), tackle Jason Peters (shoulder, finger) and running back Chris Polk (shoulder). Linebacker Jake Knott (hamstring) is out.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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