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Arizona Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu: ‘I’m a competitor and I want to be out there’

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) makes a catch as Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Standing in front of his locker after practice, Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu considered the question, carefully.

Almost six seconds past before he answered, “I would say frustrating; yeah, frustrating” his voice tailing off at the end.

Frustrating.

It’s a good word to describe Mathieu’s 2016 season, as well as the team’s. But it was Mathieu who garnered the attention on Wednesday, his first day on the practice field in exactly two weeks.

For more than a month now, Mathieu has been dealing with a shoulder injury. He hurt it in Carolina on Oct. 30, missed the next two games, returned at Atlanta, re-injured the shoulder against the Falcons and has since been out of action, missing the last two games.

Mathieu, though, hopes to be back and back for good this week when the Cardinals host his hometown team, the New Orleans Saints, on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Yes, playing the Saints is a big deal to Mathieu — “a ton of people from back home will be watching,” he said — but it’s not his main motivation to get back in uniform.

“Obviously, we suffered a couple of injuries last week,” he said, “so I think it was important for me to try to see where I’m at today as far as coming back and practicing. I made it through practice. We’ll see how the week goes on if I’m going to play or not.”

For what it’s worth, head coach Bruce Arians liked what he saw out of Mathieu on Wednesday.

“Ty moved great,” he said. “We’ll just see how the shoulder reacts tomorrow.”

Each day the shoulder gets stronger, according to Mathieu.

The question he and the training staff, now has to answer is, how will the shoulder hold up in live action? It’s something Mathieu acknowledged he won’t know for sure until “I go out there and play football,” he said.

“Most of my strength has come back. I have great motion, so I think the biggest thing is going to me hitting the ground or me trying to get off a block and all of those things can really (only) be emulated in a game.”

Missing four of the last five games hasn’t been easy for Mathieu.

“I’m a competitor and I want to be out there,” he said.

Honestly, the entire season has been a difficult one for Mathieu.

Though he started the season’s first seven games, Mathieu wasn’t really Mathieu, a.k.a. “The Honey Badger”, until probably Week 6, when he totaled six tackles, two passes defensed and also recorded his first interception of the year.

On the season, Mathieu has 30 tackles, including three for loss, three passes defensed, one interception, one sack and a forced fumble.

Coming off an All-Pro season in 2015, Mathieu spent the offseason and much of training camp rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered Dec. 20 at Philadelphia. It was his second such injury; he tore the ligament in his right knee two seasons after the left was torn.

In four NFL seasons, Mathieu has yet to play a full 16-game schedule.

Even at less than 100-percent, if Mathieu returns this week, his presence defensively will be big, especially given the season-ending injuries to safety Tyvon Branch (groin) and dollar linebacker Deone Bucannon (ankle), both of whom got hurt in Miami.

The argument can be made, however, that perhaps Mathieu shouldn’t return, that he should shut it down for the season. Why expose his body to more punishment? Heal up and be ready to be “The Honey Badger” again in 2017.

Mathieu never considered such a thought.

“I’m not that kind of guy. I mean, I’ve heard stories of guys like that. I don’t think I’m that guy,” he said. “We got three games left, and I hope to be on the field for the last three.”

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