TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Phidarian Mathis already has one important connection with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the Alabama defensive tackle arrived in Tuscaloosa back in 2017 thanks to the recruitment of defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
Dunbar served as the defensive line coach under Nick Saban for two seasons from 2016-2017 before jumping back to the NFL, where he landed with the Steelers and has held the same position ever since.
Mathis redshirted during his freshman season in 2017, but became a key contributor for the Crimson Tide starting in his first season of action. Mathis recorded 129 tackles throughout his college career, increasing his total every season from just 18 in 2018 up to a career-high 53 during the 2021 campaign.
“Really just getting better at my position,” Mathis said about what he is focusing on in the run-up to the draft. “Trying to master the game, learn and really all up to this point it has just been getting ready for the Senior Bowl, the Combine and Pro Day. Now I’m about to kick in and focus on the mental part of the game, clean up my technique and stuff like that.”
NFL scouts will also be interested in how his sack numbers skyrocketed in 2021. After only recording 1.5 sacks his first three seasons, Mathis brought down the quarterback nine times in 15 games last season, including one in the College Football Playoff win over Cincinnati.
Mathis would only be the latest in a long line of recent Alabama defensive linemen to reach the NFL. Last season the New England Patriots drafted Christian Barmore in the second round, and Raekown Davis also went in the second round to the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
“They’re my boys,” Mathis said. “We’re still in group chat and stuff, they’re my points. Raekown, I trained with him while I was working out for everything. He gave me the input on what to expect. I stay in touch with all of my guys and I love them guys to death. I’m happy to be going where they’re at now.”
But as for potentially joining one of his former teammates in the NFL, or maybe re-uniting with Dunbar in Pittsburgh? Mathis still has no idea what to expect next month.
“It’s a surprise,” Mathis said. “I don’t know nothing. I don’t know what to expect. We’re going to find out come Draft Day. I’m preparing for the worst, but I’m blessed to see what happens.”