Jordan Matthews ended his freshman season at Vanderbilt by making an impression.
Now he wants to make a dent and develop into one of the Commodores’ top threats at wide receiver.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder played just five games last fall and made only one start — in the regular season finale — but was the team’s fourth leading receiver with 15 catches for 184 yards. He had a touchdown reception in each of the final four contests. In fact, his four grabs were Vanderbilt’s only receiving touchdowns in the last those games — all losses during a 2-10 season.
This spring, Matthews has picked up right where he left off. Prior to the start of spring practices, he was listed as one of the starting wide receivers. In Saturday’s scrimmage at Vanderbilt Stadium, he was the top target of quarterbacks Larry Smith and Charlie Goro. In typical fashion, he caught touchdown passes from both.
“I am feeling pretty good but with any type of success, you always want to be humble with it,” Matthews said. “I know I am nowhere near the receiver I want to be. Right now, I am making plays but I really need to start getting better on my blocking and routes so I can become the best receiver I can be.”
James Franklin believes he can help with that.
Vanderbilt’s first-year head coach specializes in offense and was a quarterback at Division II East Stroudsburg (Pa.). He also has nearly 10 years of experience mentoring receivers, including one at the professional level when he was the Green Bay Packers’ wide receivers coach in 2005.
With four wide receivers 6-3 or taller, Franklin thinks there is a lot of untapped potential at his disposal.
“With [wide receivers] coach [Chris] Beatty’s background [he spent the last three years at West Virginia], and my background ... I think we can help the wide receivers. I think we can make an impact in how to coach those guys,” he said. “To me, more than anything, it is a mentality. We have a bunch of big, tall, physical wideouts. When the ball is in the air, they have to have the mentality that no one is coming down with it but us. They are going to live on the JUGS [passing] machine and understand the routes and get as quick and as big and as strong and as fast as they can with [strength] coach [Dwight] Galt.”
Matthews used his height on Saturday. His second score came on a 15-yard pass from Smith that was lofted over two defenders into the right corner of the end zone. Matthews leaped up and plucked the ball away, staying inbounds as he fell to the ground.
“I am confident when the ball is in the air. I feel like that is my game,” he said. “I was blessed by God with height and big hands so whenever the ball is in the air, I feel like I should be coming down with it. We have plays like that, corner end zone fades, I’ll look at Larry and say, ‘Throw that one up to me and give me the chance.’ I’m pretty confident in my hands right now and they are getting stronger. I’m just going to keep working in the summer to keep getting them better.”
Matthews is a native of Madison, Ala., and was personally recruited by former head coach Robbie Caldwell. When Caldwell resigned prior the final regular season game on Nov. 27, Matthews was unhappy.
“Coach Caldwell made it clear to us that he was fired,” Matthews said after that game. “He would never quit on us. Coach Caldwell is not a quitter.”
More than four months later, though, Matthews said he hasn’t let the end of Caldwell’s short tenure as head coach impact his relationship with the new coaching staff. He said he and his former coach have not talked much since Caldwell's attention is on his new role in as Clemson’s offensive line coach.
“Now he is doing good. I feel real good about his situation,” Matthews said.
As far as the new staff goes, Matthews says he is developing a connection with Beatty and Franklin, whom Matthews calls a “great guy” and someone who expects big things from Matthews.
“If he sees me not coming out to practice with that fire, he’ll come up to me like, ‘Come on, I need you. I need you.’ He is a great motivator,” Matthews said. “He has a passion for the game and that kind of oozes into the leadership and the other players too. Whenever he comes out there, you don’t want to let him down because he is breaking his back for us. So you want to have his back also.”
Matthews hopes to do that by using his hands, his height and his skills to emerge as one of the Southeastern Conference’s best receivers.
“I am confident whenever I go out there,” he said. “I just want to have fun. There is a little bit of humility that I go out with too because I know I have to keep getting better and hone my skills.”