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John Ridgeway’s continued growth in year two can create difficult questions to answer for Washington

With the latest injury news on second-year lineman Phidarian Mathis, John Ridgeway has an opportunity further to cement himself as Washingtons' go-to run defender.

NFL: Preseason-Washington Commanders at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As the Washington Commanders fans, players, and coaches all eagerly anticipate the week one kickoff, news emerged yesterday as Washington worked to establish its initial 53-man roster that second-year defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis will be placed on short-term injured reserve to start the season.

Mathis, Washington's 2022 second-round draft pick, missed his rookie season due to a knee injury after playing just three snaps in week one against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He will now be unavailable for Washington until at least week five due to a calf injury from the first preseason game. While he has practiced to some extent since his calf injury, his situation has become unfortunate and indeed frustrating for him as he will miss at least the first 21 NFL games of his career.

Injuries are unpredictable and the most significant risk playing in the NFL; however, Mathis's latest situation raised questions about what the Commanders will do when he does return. Washington claimed interior defensive lineman John Ridgeway from the Cowboys last season due to Mathis’s injury, and he was nothing short of impressive in his 15 games as a rookie. In Ridgeway’s second season, Washington will continue relying on him in that same role as Mathis recovers from his latest injury.

If Ridgeway begins pulling away from Mathis due to on-field production and availability, where does that leave Mathis once he returns? Ridgeway accounted for 27 percent of their defensive snaps last season. As a 0/1-tech defensive lineman, Ridgeway’s role was already limited, as indicated by his snap count, so can we expect Mathis to overtake Ridgeway’s snaps upon returning from injury?

Make no mistake: Mathis is a talented interior run defender with untapped potential as a pass rusher. So, I am sure his coaches will find ways for their second-round pick to get on the field once Mathis is ready. Still, suppose Ridgeway continues to develop and grow his toolbox. Unless Mathis is instantly better than Ridgeway in his return, it will be hard to justify not only taking snaps away from Ridgeway in favor of him but also why Washington chose him in the second round.

Either way, let’s hope Mathis’s fortunes can improve once he returns.

Check out the latest Trap or Dive Podcast episode, where AJ, Dre, and I discuss Washington’s initial 53-man roster and their practice squad additions. We also discuss Phidarian Mathis’s situation and whether our offensive or defensive expectations have changed after the preseason.

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