Potential pro Matthews making strides



Chris Matthews is always open. At least that’s what UK head coach Joker Phillips thinks.

“At 6-foot-4, you’ve got a 5-foot-10 guy (defending you) that’s open,” Phillips said. “I don’t care how close he is to you.”

Phillips expects Matthews, listed as a 6-foot-5 senior wide receiver, to always be open and to go up and get the football equivalent of a jump ball, given his size advantage over defensive backs, who are typically smaller.

Last season, Matthews’ first with UK after transferring from Los Angeles Harbor Junior College, he found mixed success snagging 32 catches for 354 yards and three touchdowns and finishing as the team’s second-leading receiver behind Randall Cobb. But Matthews would be the first to admit that he was, at times, lost in the offense, simply trying his best to learn on the fly.

This season, Matthews has shown marked improvement in his play, and has more receiving yards (228) and receiving touchdowns (4) than Cobb. His average of 57 receiving yards per game ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference.

“Last year you saw him coming off the ball and he was continuing to look at the defense to try to figure out what was going on,” Phillips said. “Now he’s playing a lot faster, being a lot more aggressive in attacking the football. We thought Chris would make a huge improvement.”

The UK coaching staff, particularly offensive line coach Mike Summers, helped Matthews by tweaking the offense so he wouldn’t have to sight adjust for blitzes as much. Now Matthews, who is averaging 17.5 yards per catch, is free to sprint down the field and use his size and athleticism to give the Cats a deep threat option.

“Last year we barely threw the ball down field, and it was a lack of trust between the quarterbacks and the receivers…We had a lot of young receivers, as well as me that came in and didn’t know much,” Matthews said. “Now that we actually have veterans on the field at receiver, we’re ready to make a big impression on everybody.”

Matthews made a big impression with a career night—six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns—against Florida. He was one of the few bright spots for the Cats in that game.

“Now the coaches know, hopefully they know, that we can trust Chris,” Matthews said.

The rest of the UK offense already seems to trust Matthews to come through in the clutch.

“He’s a big-time player and he’s going to step up in big-time games…We’re just looking for bigger and better games from him,” senior offensive tackle Brad Durham said.

Matthews’ performance against Florida was made more impressive considering that the Gators have one of the quickest secondaries in the nation, including one of the best cover corners in Janoris Jenkins, who is likely to be selected high in the NFL draft.

“I didn’t have anything to prove, I just wanted to go out there and play good for my team,” Matthews said.

Though Matthews might not feel like he had much to prove, the continued development of his play can prove to professional scouts that he has what it takes to play at the next level.

“(Matthews) is a pro anyway,” Phillips said. “I told him this last year: ‘You’re a pro, it’s just a matter of how good of a chance are you going to get. Are you going to be a free agent?’ At 6-foot-4 and as well as he runs, he’s at least a free agent. Now, play yourself into a draft pick, a 7th rounder, 6th rounder, it’s up to him.

“He’s no longer a free agent, I can tell you that now. He’s definitely a draft pick. How high? It depends on how well he continues to play.”