TEMPE, Ariz. — About this time last year, Tyrann Mathieu was still rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered the previous season.
Though a dynamic player as a rookie before the injury, there were questions about how long it would take for him to return and, when he did, what kind of player the Arizona Cardinals would have.
Well, Mathieu ended up getting back on the field during training camp, and was activated for the Cardinals’ Week 2 win over the New York Giants.
He went on to appear in 13 games — including six starts — and finished with 36 total tackles, one interception, five passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Unlike last offseason, though, this one will be spent getting better as a football player, not healthier. Mathieu said Tuesday as the team began its offseason strength and conditioning program that his knee “is great.”
“I don’t want to jinx myself,” he added. “It’s been going well. I had a great offseason. So I’m just continuing to progress and, hopefully, everything goes well.”
Given the change Arizona’s secondary has undergone this season, with cornerback Antonio Cromartie leaving for the New York Jets as a free agent, it’s possible Mathieu’s role will change. Asked about a potential move back to being a slot-corner, like he was as a rookie, the third-year pro said no one really knows where they will be until the roster is finalized.
“But for right now, I’m just focusing on being a safety and hopefully I can do that job as well as Rashad (Johnson) did it last year,” he said.
A healthy Mathieu figures to be a big boost to a Cardinals defense that could always use more playmakers. He showed flashes of his rookie form at times last season, but was unable to really put it all together. Then, right when it seemed like he was on the verge of rediscovering his form, he hurt his thumb in a loss to Atlanta, which cost him the following week’s game in St. Louis and then limited him the rest of the way.
But with an entire offseason spent more on improving his game than his health, Mathieu is in a much better place than he was a year ago.
“I think just confidence,” he said of the difference. “I think that’s really all it comes down to. Being confident in my play, being confident that I can go out there and help my team every single down and not holding anything back.
“Like I said, hopefully everything goes well and continues to go well, because I’m really looking forward to this season.”