Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews last season was scratched from as many games (two) for disciplinary reasons as he had touchdown catches. This spring he made more headlines by holding out during workouts than holding on to passes. He is more known for catching hell from coaches than catching footballs from Ryan Tannehill.
“Trust me, we’ve had some knockdown, drag-outs over the years,” coach Joe Philbin said Saturday through a smile. “I think there’s a healthy respect between the two of us. We’ve banged heads, there’s no hiding that.”
The history between Matthews and Miami coaches has been, let’s say, interesting. There was, for instance, that shouting match in a meeting last December that led to him being deactivated the final two games.
There was also the fact Matthews skipped some offseason work because he wanted the Dolphins to trade him to a team that would play him more.
But that history seems moot now. That history, punctuated by the disappointment of both the player and team, is fading in the rearview mirror
The immediate road ahead seems promising.
“I like him as a football player, I like that confidence,” Philbin said moments after recounting their run-ins. “He believes in himself, which I like. He wants to contribute. I like that. And he’s tough.”
Uncertain he was going to make the team before camp began, Matthews’ contributions on both offense and special teams this training camp have bought him enough security that he seems practically certain of making the 53-man roster.
Expected to be a fifth receiver at best when the Dolphins traded for Kenny Stills, drafted DeVante Parker and signed free agent Greg Jennings, Matthews today is a starter and making noise like maybe he’s going to hold on to that spot for a while.
And the best part of all that?
Matthews is making noise with his play in practice. He’s making noise by reporting for duty and maximizing his opportunity. None of the noise is coming out of his mouth in the form of threats or dissatisfaction.
“My main focus is just trying to contribute best I can — offensively, special teams, everything,” he said. “I think the coaches know what I can do, but we’ll see when the regular season starts off.
“I feel like, in my mind, I’ve been a starter since I came in my second year and filled in after Brandon [Gibson] went down,” Matthews said. “And that’s just confidence in myself and that’s where I have to get it from because other people’s perception is different. But to me, I’ve been the same since I’ve been here.”
Actually, he hasn’t been the same.
Yes, the football stuff could be the same if not somewhat better. But the approach — the professionalism — has been different lately.
“I would say I’m more mature,” Matthews said. “I’m more professional on and off the field.
“I’m 25 now. I came in the league, I was just a little bit over 21. I’ve grown up. I’m taking accountability for things. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what maturity is about, understanding the situation you’re in. You’re handed opportunities and I’m taking advantage of them.”
Matthews believes his maturity has something to do with chronology. Philbin believes it has more to do with biology.
“Sometimes fatherhood and the onset of fatherhood will sometimes do that for you, forget about the many lectures that he’s heard from me,” the coach said, referring to the coming addition to the Matthews family.
Matthews has gotten as many opportunities this camp as any other player on the roster. He’s not running with the first-team offense because he beat out Stills or Parker. He’s up there because Stills and Parker are injured.
But given that opening, Matthews doesn’t seem overwhelmed. He is not out of place. He is instead trying to bust through the perception that he cannot stay a starter for very long.
“I think he’s capitalized on [opportunities],” Philbin said. “He’s always caught the ball well and I think he’s done that this camp. He ran a nice route the other night. He was strong at the top of the route. He’s got strong hands. He’s got some toughness so he can contribute on special teams. I got to give him credit, he’s done a good job.”
The question that will test Matthews is what happens when Stills and Parker get healthy? What then?
How will Matthews react if his teammates pass him on the depth chart? Will the Dolphins find themselves dealing with an unhappy player again?
“Yeah, I’ll be disappointed if I’m not a starter,” Matthews said. “But as long as I make the 53, and I’m on the team and I’m able to contribute more than I did last year, then that’s good. The biggest thing is we need to win more games this year. That’s the biggest issue in my mind.
“It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than everybody else. We need to make it to the playoffs.”