Paying it forward: IR doesn't end Mathis' impact

Posted Dec 20, 2015

Cornerback Rashean Mathis could be back home in Florida working on his golf game, but instead, he remains in Allen Park continuing the grind.

The 2015 season ended for Rashean Mathis 36 days ago, when the Lions placed him on injured reserve with a concussion.

A four handicap on the golf course, Mathis is hoping for a career in golf after football. So, he could be back home in Florida working on his short game, but instead, the 36-year-old 13-year NFL veteran remains in Allen Park continuing the grind.

Watch any Lions practice over the last month and Mathis isn’t off to the side flipping a football to himself or joking around with teammates. He’s not physically taking part in drills with his fellow cornerbacks, but he’s right in the mix as an extension of secondary coaches Tony Oden and Alan Williams.

He’s involved, he’s extending a wealth of knowledge and he’s paying it forward to some of the young Lions cornerbacks trying to make their mark in the NFL.

Rashean MathisCB Rashean Mathis (Photo: Detroit Lions)


When Mathis entered the league in 2003 in Jacksonville, he was a second-round pick out of Bethune-Cookman trying to earn some playing time alongside established veterans Donovin Darius and Marlon McCree.

“Donovin was hands on, but I was fighting for a position against Marlon and he was still willing to teach me and that meant a lot to me,” Mathis said.

Mathis never forgot how Darius and McCree helped him along as a wide-eyed rookie. Mathis has tried to do the same thing with every young cornerback he’s come across for more than a decade.

“It’s our job,” he said. “Because one day these guys are going to be in the same position I’m in.

“For them to say, ‘Okay, Rashean was the guy who showed me the way and now I’m just paying it forward.’ That’s just standing on the backs of guys before us and that’s what this game is about.”


Since Mathis and fellow veteran Josh Wilson, who started the season as the team's starting nickel cornerback, were placed on IR (Wilson in November with a knee injury), the Lions have relied heavily on youngsters Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs to step up and fill the void.

Both players have made their mark over the last month and look to be nice pieces the Lions can build around moving forward, especially Diggs in the slot. Pro Football Focus has him graded among the top 10 slot cornerbacks in the league so far this season.

Diggs says both Mathis and Wilson have kept on him since being placed on IR. He's says their continued presence in the film room and on the practice field has been invaluable.

“He has a lot of knowledge and a lot of things he can definitely teach us,” Diggs said of Mathis.

“It’s big time because Shean could be out in Florida and Josh could be back home watching with his family and we could just be here. But those guys taking the time to come out, spend time with us, be around us and just enjoy that process. They are two complete veterans and it just shows what the (secondary) room is about.”

A couple weeks back Mathis spent a ton of time with Lawson in practice and in the film room working on his press technique at the line of scrimmage. In that week's game vs. Green Bay, Lawson was thrown at six times and allowed two receptions for nine yards and defended one pass, per Pro Football Focus statistics.

“In practice he was (looking at) our press drills,” Lawson said. “He helped me understand my press game and what to take away and what I could allow because of where my help is on certain plays.

“For him to be here, that just shows what type of character he has of being a man and understanding that he has the ability to help others.

“Shean’s been a huge help, especially for me, because he’s always in my ear making sure I’m reading the right technique and doing the right things. That’s big.”


There’s a lot of knowledge that’s gained over 13 years in the NFL, and since Mathis made the decision to stick around, Oden has made sure he taps into it for the benefit of his secondary and young corners.

“His insight is remarkable,” Oden said. “It’s the same thing he brought as a player on the field, he’s bringing in the classroom and still on the field (in practice).

“He sees things from a different perspective. And he sees things probably even better now, because you’re not involved in the stress of the game. You can kind of sit back and see the big picture of it all. You can really focus on the true X’s and O’s and finer details of it all.”

Mathis has continued to travel with the Lions on road games and is an involved presence on the sideline on gameday. He’s able to communicate on a different level with players and Oden knows that.

“Sometimes in the game what’ll happen is I’ll say, ‘Sheen, when he comes off, communicate this to him so I can communicate this (to someone else),” Oden said.

“It helps us communicate faster and we can do that because of the kind of person he is and I can trust that I can give him the information and he’s going to give it back in exactly the way it needs to reach that person that he’s focusing on.”

Mathis says being out at practice, traveling with the team and being on the sideline on gameday is keeping him in the game.

“The longer I’m on IR it gets harder to stay in it because you’re getting farther and farther from when you last played,” he said.

“I have to adjust myself mentally and TO (Tony Oden) does a great job being like, ‘okay, this is the day I’m going to ask you to do this.’

“He does a great job with it, giving me something to keep my mind going.”


Mathis has one year left on the two-year $3.5 million contract he signed before this season. He’s scheduled to make a base salary of $1 million next season with a $500,000 roster bonus due the third day of the new league year.

He told reporters after being placed on IR in November that he hadn’t yet made a determination about his playing future.

He is an avid golfer as mentioned above, and he would like to get his game on the links in order to one day potentially join a professional golf tour. He won my third annual “Closest to the Pin Challenge” in June as the only player to hit the green with all three shots.

But could coaching be in his future one day? Oden said he’d be a terrific NFL coach, but Mathis isn’t quite sure that's in his path.

“I would love to do it, but these guys put in a lot of hours,” Mathis said. “If it’s the Lord’s will, then yeah, but as of right now, I think while I’m in this locker room as a player this is the most coaching I’ll be doing, unless its high school or something because I do have so much knowledge for the game.”