Is Ryan Mathews ready for increased role?

San Diego running back Ryan Mathews will be one of the most interesting players in the NFL to watch develop in 2012.

The Chargers plan to unleash Mathews, the No. 12 overall pick of the 2010 draft. Mathews has been good so far in his young career. He had 1,091 yards rushing last season and he averaged 4.9 yards per carry. For his career, Mathews has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and he has 13 career touchdowns.

There’s no doubt his talent is immense. The Chargers believe he is ready to become a premier player. He is expected to be a workhorse this year and be involved in every phase of the offense, including being the team’s third-down back.

As U-T San Diego explained, Chargers coach Norv Turner has a history or using workhorse backs from Emmitt Smith to Ricky Williams to LaDainian Tomlinson.

“People who understand my history and look at it, I've had a large number of backs get a lot of carries, a dominant number of carries," Turner told the newspaper "I've had a few guys who've led the league or led the conference in rushing. I do believe, based on my experiences, Ryan is a guy who is capable of at some point doing that.”

Now, it’s Mathews’ turn. The question is, is he up to the task?

If there is a ding against Mathews it's that he gets banged up often. He has missed six games in two seasons. Getting the rock 25-30 times per game may be a challenge for a player who has 380 NFL carries. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is a big believer in Mathews’ abilities, but he wonders if he can handle the load of being a true workhorse.

“In terms of what Mathews is capable of, I totally see it,” Williamson said. “I think he is a nearly elite total running back, in terms of his physical skill set and ability to help in all phases of the position. He’s a stud. But, what we don’t know and what I have huge questions about is his mind-set/toughness to be a true lead back. Few have that mental capacity to truly want the ball down after down and have the entire team lean on them when it matters most, like Emmitt Smith. And can Mathews play with pain? I have my doubts for sure. His talents suggest that he can be that guy and be one of the very best. What he has shown to this point from a toughness/mental standpoint. I have serious doubts. I hope he proves me wrong, and he might.”