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Tyrann Mathieu returns to practice, might lose knee brace soon

Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) looks at the replay board during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams , Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Tyrann Mathieu was back on the practice field Wednesday for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in Arizona’s Week eight loss to the Carolina Panthers.

“I felt good, so really excited about it,” he said after practice. “So, looking forward to it.”

But while Mathieu missed last Sunday’s win over the 49ers with the shoulder injury, the discussion around his return still centered largely around his right knee. The defensive back is still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 15 of last season, and up until now has yet to display the level of play that had him in the consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2015.

A sign Mathieu is ready to return to that form could be the removal of the brace he has been wearing on his right knee, and though there has been some speculation that it could be coming off soon, Mathieu said that conversation was to take place after speaking with reporters Wednesday.

Of course, he’d prefer not to have to wear it.

“But I don’t want to do anything that puts me in harm’s way,” he said, noting he will have to be cleared by his doctors. “I’m sure we’ll negotiate something.”

Negotiate?

“Whether or not to keep it on or take it off; there’s negotiation in everything in life,” he added.

There is no science to it, but Mathieu sans brace has historically been a better player than Mathieu with brace, so the sooner he can ditch it, the better off everyone will be. It’s just not that simple.

Mathieu has now suffered two devastating knee injuries in three NFL seasons, and keeping him healthy is of the utmost importance to the Cardinals not only for the rest of the season, but for the foreseeable future. The brace, while offering no guarantee, is meant to help ensure Mathieu’s knee stays structurally sound.

Moving on from it, however, would ensure, at least in Mathieu’s mind, that he is healthy.

“Playing without the brace, it will be another hurdle I have to overcome,” he said. “Just getting that confidence back and just being aggressive. I’m looking forward to it — it should be fun, exciting.”

This season, Mathieu has accounted for 28 total tackles, one interception, two passes defensed and one forced fumble. He played more as a deep safety through the first four games, but moved back into his slot corner role in Week 5.

The farther removed he gets from the knee injury and the quicker he can get back to normal with the shoulder, it can be expected for Mathieu to look more like his dynamic, dominant self.

If his Wednesday practice was any indication, he may be getting closer.

“Ty looked fine, he looked good; he looked really good,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

“He looked good,” QB Carson Palmer said. “There’s a big difference, obviously, practice and games, and it’s good to hear that he’s going to get his reps and should be good to go.”

Arians expressed hope, if not confidence, that Mathieu would at some point this season get back to playing the way he did last season prior to the knee injury. He said the shoulder injury probably set him back a little bit, but the hope remains.

Mathieu, though, doesn’t have much doubt.

“I’m confident, so we’ll see,” he said.

As for his status for Sunday’s game in Minnesota, of that he is less sure. It all depends on how he’s feeling at the end of the week, though he said if he’s near 100 percent, he will suit up.

But whether he plays or not, he said the fact that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy will not get him down.

“Life frustrates sometimes,” he said. “Just got to deal with it. Can’t get too high or too low.

“Just another challenge for me — I embrace all those challenges.”

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