Arizona Cardinals rookie free safety, Tyrann Mathieu, has become a sight to see during offseason practices. The former Louisiana State University standout and team’s third-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has been kept busy during his first few months as a pro. Mathieu has been working on the conversion from college cornerback to NFL safety. Word out of camp is that he has impressed the Cardinals coaches playing safety while working with the first-team nickel package. If he keeps things up, the starting free safety spot can become his to lose.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was on hand at Cardinals minicamp and talked about how Mathieu was “buzzing around plays” during workouts. King mentioned a specific play during a practice in which Mathieu made a spectacular diving deflection of a Carson Palmer throw. Tyrann’s recent play has been inspiring to say the least, and it may be a serious indication that he’s more than ready to effectively play safety at the NFL level.
“The first thing you notice about Mathieu is his size — at 5-9, he’s probably three inches shy of what’s optimal for the position — and the second is his instinct. He’s clearly at home on the practice field, pointing out coverages pre-snap and changing direction smoothly,” said King.
In an interview with King, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer shared some positive insight about Mathieu and even compared him to one of NFL’s best safety’s of all-time.
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“He reminds of Troy Polamalu with his closing speed,” said Palmer. “He might not be the fastest guy out there, but he can change directions and get to the ball really fast, like Troy.”
Cardinal’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has opened up opportunities for Tyrann to succeed by giving him looks at different positions. At 5-foot-9, he may not have the build or prototypical size of a safety, but his skill level is what makes him a factor at the position as opposed to a liability. He also gives the Cardinals an appealing option at cornerback if they ever needed him to cover a receiver one-on-one.
In this day and age for Tyrann Mathieu, the ‘Honey Badger’ nickname that he earned during his college career has become a thing in the past. After the Arizona Cardinals drafted Mathieu, he had officially disassociated himself from the name, expressing that he saw no place for it in the NFL. He earned the title ‘Honey Badger,’ as a result of his hard nose, physical play against bigger opponents and his knack for making huge plays throughout games. It was something that he once embraced, but now that he’s in the NFL, ‘Honey Badger’ has to be left behind.
“I understand there are a lot of people who were in love with the Honey Badger and they will not let it go, but for me, going forward, I want people to recognize me as Tyrann Mathieu,” the safety said. “I don’t have anything against the Honey Badger. It’s just that Honey Badger happened at such a dark time in my life.”
“I’m just really focusing on Tyrann right now.”
Anyone who has followed Tyrann Mathieu knows that his college career was often troubled despite the fact that he was a star at LSU. He was often involved in marijuana issues that ultimately derailed his LSU playing days and college career overall. During the 2011 college season, he was suspended one game for a violation of LSU’s drug policy. In August of last year, LSU head coach Les Miles announced that Mathieu had been dismissed from the program due to a violation of team rules. Soon after, it was reported that he had repeatedly failed drug tests although he never confirmed the reports. A week later, he was admitted into a drug rehabilitation program in Houston, Texas.
Since becoming pro, Mathieu has done his part in making sure that he doesn’t go back to his old lifestyle. He wants to ensure that he doesn’t mess up this opportunity to play in the NFL. Currently, he’s enrolled in the NFL’s drug-testing program where he can expect to be drug tested 10 times per month.
Mathieu has been upfront with his problems and has faced them head on. Now he’s just focused on the game itself and how he can become a better player.
“I think me just doing what I have to do, just letting my actions speak for themselves (will quiet the questions),” Mathieu said. “I definitely have a long journey ahead of me and there are definitely going to be some challenges, but I think I’m prepared for it.”
He has also noted that he has a ton of support and people who want to see him succeed. Fellow Arizona Cardinal rookie linebacker Kevin Minter, who was a college teammate of Mathieu’s from 2010-11, and third year cornerback Patrick Patterson among others have been there to keep him on a positive path. Patterson served as his mentor throughout the pre-draft process.
“(Patrick) is going to be extremely important, probably as important as my girlfriend,” Mathieu said. “He’s probably going to be everywhere with me. I’m just going to follow Patrick’s routine.”
Since the start of the pre-draft process until now, things have been going pretty well for Mathieu in his life overall. He’s 20 years old and full of potential. There are veterans on the team whom he can learn the ins and outs of the game from. Not to mention his outside support system including friends and family that have helped him stay in a good place. Although he feels that closing the door on his nickname is equal to closing the door on his past, he knows that he can’t slam the door completely shut just yet.
“If the little kids out there want to call me Honey Badger,” Mathieu said with a smile, “they can do that.”