Fans at University of Phoenix Stadium cringed last December 8 when rookie Tyrann Mathieu's knee buckled underneath him before he reached the sideline after a free kick return.
Their fears were confirmed when tests showed Mathieu had torn the ACL and LCL in his left knee -- an injury that normally requires a rehabilitation program of one calendar year. That schedule would mean that Mathieu would miss most, if not all of his second season in the league.
But that might not be the case, according to general manager Steve Keim.
"We think there's a chance he'll be back by the beginning of the season," Keim told Adam Schein on SiriusXM Radio Friday. "I told him, when the doctors initially put a timeline on a player's injury, he's the one guy that is so much different than anyone else because of his passion and his toughness.
"I told him, I said 'Ty, don't listen to anybody. Nobody can tell you and pinpoint the exact return date -- that's up to you.' And he's a machine. He's the kind of guy that I really think could come back a lot earlier than people anticipated."
Keim didn't only gush about Mathieu's work ethic and diligence in his rehab, but about him in general.
"He's fantastic," Keim said. "He's constantly texting me, whether it's about other draftable players that he liked -- he's just a student of the game. He was a guy that we obviously took a chance on, a calculated risk. And he showed up big for us on the field, but really made a bigger difference off the field.
"He has grown up tremendously. He's a gym rat, he's in here all the time, I mean we have to kick him out of the building and tell him 'Tyrann, go home for a little bit.' He's always in the training room, doing his rehab, he's in the weight room. He's walking around our hallways talking to the coaches. He has been really a joy so far and we're excited about his progress."