Considering he led the NCAA with seven runs of 50 yards or longer last season, former Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews should be used to long jaunts.
However, even his longest run -- a 69-yard touchdown against Boise State -- pales in comparison to the cross-country trips he's taken over the past few weeks.
Since blistering the combine track with a 4.37-second (handheld) time in the 40-yard dash and bettering his results in the short shuttle (4.10) and pass-catching drills at his Pro Day, Mathews has been on a cross-country tour, stopping in New York to visit with the Jets and also hitting San Diego and Cleveland.
"Most of the trips are really pretty much the same," Mathews said. "You fly in, they pick you up and take you to the hotel and the next day you spend time at their facility meeting the coaches. It is just like a business trip. They want to get to know you. They're considering investing a lot of money into you, so they want to get to know you a little bit. Then we go over some film -- mine and their team's."
While many aspects of the visits are similar, Mathews did note some subtle differences in how teams spent their time with him.
The Jets seemed most interested in checking him out physically and explaining their team-first philosophy. The Browns, on the other hand, spent a lot of time getting to know him personally and exploring his mental capacity to quickly absorb their offense. The Chargers took him out to dinner the night before and focused their time on explaining how he fit the team's scheme.
The Jets were the first team Mathews visited. He was one of the 30 players the Jets were allowed to interview at the combine. As noted in a previous entry, Mathews recalled being attracted to head coach Rex Ryan's personality in Indianapolis.
That same comfort level with the boisterous coach was apparent when Mathews spoke of their second meeting.
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"Yeah, Rex is real good. He sat me down, and when we watched film together, he didn't just show me plays and schemes, but showed me how his team plays together and how they do what they do. How they all block for each other," Mathews said.
Former Jets coach Eric Mangini and the Cleveland Browns employed a different style of meeting and greeting.
"In Cleveland, running backs coach [Gary] Brown gave me some mental tests to see how quickly I could pick up plays and schemes," explained Mathews. "He and the other coaches just wanted to see how quickly I could learn them and if I could retain them after they taught me other things."
The mental tests went beyond football.
"They wanted to get to know me as a person, not just as a player," Mathews said. "I specifically remember coach Mangini asking me about what I would save from my home if there was a fire. I told him I'd save some family pictures."
Lending credence to the Southern California laid-back culture, the Chargers were the most easy-going job interview of the trio.
"In San Diego, it was more chill," Mathews noted. "I went out to dinner the first night with coach [Ollie] Wilson, the running back coach. Then they gave me a tour of their facility, we watched some film and they explained to me how they thought I fit into their program."
Though Mathews, like most prospects, didn't want to point out one franchise as the team he'd most like to go to, it was obvious that staying close to home by being drafted by San Diego intrigued him. Mathews grew up in Bakersfield, only a few hours north of San Diego by car.
"San Diego would be great. I grew up loving the Chargers. LaDainian Tomlinson was my favorite back growing up. The weather ... just about everything there would be great. It would be fun."
Another aspect about San Diego that no doubt piques his interest is that Darren Sproles isn't expected to be a workhorse back for the Chargers. Just as in Cleveland, there is potential for a rookie to come in and earn a lot of carries if they impress early.
That might not be the case in New York, where the Jets feature an already bloated backfield of Shonn Greene and tendered restricted free agent Leon Washington and, of course, recently added future Hall of Famer Tomlinson. Despite the crowed backfield, Mathews doesn't worry about working his way into the mix if the Jets draft him.
"It would be fine. They obviously have a whole bunch of running backs there," he said. "But it would give me an opportunity to learn from some great backs, including LaDainian Tomlinson."
In traveling to these three cities, Mathews hopes he's impressed teams enough to force one of them to use a first-round pick on him on April 22. He knows that many teams end up drafting players they invited to their facilities or worked out privately.
Most teams had already seen what he can do. Besides leading the country with 150.67 rushing yards per game in 2009, Mathews was impressive in workouts at the combine and at his Pro Day. He is the only Fresno State Bulldog expected to be drafted before the late rounds and yet nearly every team (29) in the league was represented at his March 17 workout. Still, the fact that he's already established his athleticism doesn't keep Mathews from making sure he's ready in case another team comes calling.
"You never know who might want to come in for a private workout," Mathews said.
"I just know that by working hard, if they come, I'll be ready for them."
Since arriving back in Fresno after visiting the Chargers, Mathews has been working out at the Bulldogs' facility and trying to keep his mind off of the uncertainty of the draft.
He doesn't have long to ponder the possibilities, however.
Just as Mathews had returned from one trip, he left for his next trip (St. Louis) April 13.