If the true test of a player's ability is how they perform during times of adversity, left guard Evan Mathis has passed with flying colors. Despite a host of injuries along the offensive line, Mathis' second year with the Eagles has been just as good as his first.
A third-round pick by the Panthers in 2005, Mathis spent time with three other teams before landing with the Eagles during Training Camp last season. The belief was that he would be a fit in offensive line coach Howard Mudd's scheme, but it was unclear whether he would have much of an impact.
Mathis earned the starting job at left guard that summer and helped take the offensive line from a major question mark to arguably the best unit on the team. According to Pro Football Focus, Mathis did not allow a sack and only allowed quarterback Michael Vick to be hit six times last season. As a result, Mathis was a prized free agent and earned a long-term deal to return to the Eagles.
The offensive line was expected to continue where it left off in 2012, but injuries have hit the line early and often – Mathis is now the only starting lineman from last season still playing. Along the way, he's kept up last year's pace in that he hasn't allowed a sack and has only been responsible for six quarterback hits. It's been a difficult season, but he has learned throughout his career to stay tough and work hard.
"It's been (a season where) we just have to keep fighting," Mathis said Wednesday. "A lot of situations have presented themselves that aren't ideal, but I'm trying to stay mentally tough and focused on the task at hand at all times."
The Eagles' line has struggled with continuity this year. But after three weeks with the same five starters, the group had one of its best games of the season last Sunday. As a result, running back Bryce Brown ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns and rookie quarterback Nick Foles was able to efficiently direct the offense in his best game of the season. Foles has also only been sacked a combined two times over the last two games.
"Looking back on it, it seems we have steadily improved over time," Mathis said. "The past two games we showed some of our best stuff. We have to keep building on that moving forward … I think it's a combination of the continuity and the experience. Putting things together can go a long way."
Despite his stellar play last season, Mathis was not selected to the Pro Bowl. When asked if he thinks he has a shot this year, Mathis was his usual wry self.
"I try not to think about it. I can't control it, anyway," he said. "How many votes would I need if I voted for myself?"
Pro Bowl selection or not, Mathis is the kind of hardworking player every team needs. His play may not always be celebrated, but every day he does the hard work necessary to get the job done.
"I've always worked to improve, so no matter where I was last year, I wanted this year to be better and I want next year to be better than this year," Mathis said. "It's in my mind not to take a step back, but always take a step forward."
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