When we last saw Robert Mathis on the field, he was the Deacon Jones Player of the Year after leading the entire league in sacks with 19.5, one of the most valuable defensive players in all of football. There was arguably no more dominant pass rusher in 2013 than Mathis, who racked up his 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles (as well as two more sacks and two more forced fumbles in the playoffs) as the only consistent pass rusher on the Colts' roster.
By the time the 2015 regular season begins, however, it will have been 609 days since Mathis took the field for a meaningful Colts game, and even then there's no guarantee that he'll be back by then. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season due to PED use, and while working out on his own away from the team he suffered a torn Achilles that ended his season before it even began.
Now, Mathis is a 34-year old who is coming off of a season-ending Achilles injury and a year away from football. Because of that, nobody is really certain what to expect from him. He is the franchise's all-time leader with 111 sacks and has recorded at least eight sacks in nine different seasons, but how long will that productivity last? That's a question that can't really be answered until he steps on the field, and we don't even know when that will be. Owner Jim Irsay said that it might not be until November, though it could be earlier. Mathis, however, said that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.
We don't know when Robert Mathis will be back. But one thing that we do know is that he'll be motivated to prove himself. In one of his mailbags, ESPN's Mike Wells was asked when Mathis will be back, and while he didn't have an answer for that, he did offer some insight into the situation:
"I've yet to see him during the open locker room period for the media on Wednesdays during the team's offseason workouts. But I was recently told that Mathis is a regular at the facility and he's working out and rehabbing on a regular basis. One person told me that Mathis is on a mission to prove that he can still be an effective pass-rusher at 34 years old and after coming off a torn Achilles."
This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Mathis is a player who has had a chip on his shoulder for much of his career. He was selected in the fifth round of the draft, which motivated him to produce and he did just that. Then there were questions about how he would do without Dwight Freeney when the veteran departed in free agency after the 2012 season, and Mathis answered with his finest season in 2013. Now there are perhaps the most daunting questions yet: how will he do in returning from a torn Achilles at age 34? Hopefully, he answers these questions the same way he's answered the questions throughout his career, and Wells notes that Mathis is indeed motivated and "on a mission to prove" himself as he attempts to come back and produce.
Without a doubt, the return of a healthy and productive Robert Mathis would be absolutely huge for the defense. They struggled to produce a consistent pass rush last year, and while they have Jonathan Newsome returning for his second season and signed veteran Trent Cole in free agency, a return of a productive Mathis would do wonders for the unit and for the defense as a whole. But with the questions abounding, the team has Cole and Newsome in case Mathis doesn't come back healthy and/or productive. It's his job to prove that he can fit right in with that duo and be a pass rush threat once again for the franchise, and that's exactly what he's attempting to do.