MOBILE, Ala. More than a week ago, Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews already was trying to scout his competition for this week’s Senior Bowl.
Matthews, who’s playing on the South team, requested tape of the North’s cornerbacks to try to get an edge in the all-star game.
That approach isn’t all that common. Most players spend their time leading up to the Senior Bowl getting coached up by their agent or working with private instructors, but rarely do they study tape of an opponent for a glorified post-college game more than two weeks in advance.
“People look at it all sorts of ways, I look at it as necessary,” said Matthews, who watched film online to find his opponents’ tendencies. “If you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail. A lot of people look at it as a big deal, I look at it as preparation.”
Preparation is something his parents, Roderick and Brenda Matthews, instilled in him at a young age. Brenda would tell her son that “proper preparation prevents poor performance.”
It’s an alliterative mantra Matthews said he lives by, and it’s one he hopes to continue into May’s NFL draft and beyond.
Matthews had a stellar final three seasons with the Commodores, and he’s projected by many scouting services to be a late-first round to second-round selection.
He garnered attention during his sophomore season when he averaged more than 19 yards per catch. Matthews had five catches for 63 yards and no scores during the first five games of the 2011 season but finished with 36 catches for 783 yards and five touchdowns.
He posted back-to-back 1,300-plus yard seasons. This season he caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns and was a consensus first-team All-SEC receiver.
“My yards-per-catch was a little bit higher when I was a sophomore and junior,” Matthews said, “but that was less balls and less opportunities. You’ve got to make the most of them and when you get older you get more opportunities.”
Selecting 28th overall and with seven picks in this year’s draft, the Carolina Panthers could go for a receiver, offensive tackle or defensive back early, though the team hasn’t picked a receiver during the first two rounds of a draft since Dwayne Jarrett’s second-round selection in 2007.
Carolina and general manager Dave Gettleman also have decisions to make this offseason in the receiving corps. Entering his 14th year, Steve Smith will return as the No. 1 receiver but Nos. 2-4 Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon are all unrestricted free agents, and none is considered the heir apparent to Smith.
Matthews is the top senior receiver in the draft according to CBS Sports and SBNation.com, but his biggest weakness is his speed. Matthews, who measured at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds Monday, has a reported 4.55-second 40-yard dash, which is considered slow for a potential No. 1 receiver.
He has an ideal 40-time in mind for next month’s scouting combine but declined to share it Monday.
What he lacks in speed he tries to make up for in football knowledge. Former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin coached now-pro receivers Jordy Nelson, Torrey Smith and Donald Driver during stints at Kansas State, Maryland and Green Bay, respectively, and showed film of each receiver to Matthews.
Franklin told Matthews if he wants to be one of the greats, he has to study film not like a receiver, but as a quarterback.
He is “real studious, real sharp on his assignments and I think he’s getting really coached up,” said Gus Bradley, the Jacksonville Jaguars coach who’s coaching the South team. “The ability for him to transfer what he knew in college to what we’re asking him – that’s always the transition these guys go through – but he seemed to pick it up really quick.”
Part of Matthews being a quick study is because of him having a chip on his shoulder, he said. It’s something he has carried since high school, and even as he became the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions, it remains on his shoulder.
It’s an attribute he knows is common with a certain Panthers receiver.
“I don’t think, I know Steve Smith is one of the greatest to ever play the game. Steve probably has the biggest chip on his shoulder of any player in the NFL, and that’s evident in the way he carries himself, the way he plays,” said Matthews, who added it’d be an honor to play beside Smith.
“It’s an aggression but he channels it to the right moments, and I’ve got all the respect in the world for a guy like Steve Smith.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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