GLENDALE, Ariz. — And on Sunday, the Badger was back.
Tyrann Mathieu, who was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, practiced for the first time this training camp Sunday afternoon. Prior to the session, head coach Bruce Arians said the defensive back would participate in individual drills but was unsure of anything after that, yet Mathieu was on the field in 7-on-7 and 11-0n-11 work, too.
The Cardinals were not in full pads, but it was still a lot more Mathieu than anyone expected just eight months after he tore the ACL in his right knee in a Week 15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I felt great,” Mathieu said Sunday. “Got to get my wind back, but other than that, felt great. Felt like I moved around pretty good.”
Mathieu saw a good amount of reps with the first-team defense by lining up in his usual safety spot. He said he was told the plan was for him to get a couple plays in, but he fought back, saying that amount of work would not do much for him.
“So I pushed it a little bit, but I feel great,” he said.
The fourth-year pro said he was playing at about 80 percent, though he did not feel like he played with too much hesitancy. He pointed to one play where he feels he could have made an interception but did not quite get there in time and instead had to settle for a big hit.
“But I’ll clean that up,” Mathieu said.
A defensive player of the year candidate before going down last season, Mathieu signed a five-year contract extension early in camp and is seen as a key piece of not only the team’s defense but the organization as a whole. Just 24 years old, if he can stay healthy, the former third-round pick should continue to be one of the game’s brightest stars.
The sooner he can get back to being himself the better the Cardinals will be, and Mathieu is comfortable saying his recovery from this knee injury went a lot more smoothly than the last one. Given that, it might not take too long for him to regain the form that saw him post 89 tackles, five interceptions, 16 passes defensed and one sack in 14 games last season.
He will have to transition from getting mental reps on the sideline to actually being on the field in the middle of the action, which is why getting back on the field now could prove valuable.
“Being a spectator is so much different than actually playing a game, so I was fortunate enough I was able to come out here today and get some work,” he said.
Mathieu missed being on the field. While he enjoyed cheering on his teammates, he’d rather be making big plays himself.
As for those teammates, Mathieu said they were surprised by how much he was able to do in his first day back.
The Cardinals’ Sept. 11 Week 1 opener is still a few weeks away so there will be time for him to shake off whatever rust may have been accumulated during his absence.
His signature passion, which Arians said will need some time to return, at some point will show itself, and the leadership skills he has shown in the past will come more easily for him now that he is on the field with his teammates.
In time, Matheiu should be Mathieu again.
After an offeseason of rehabilitation, Sunday offered his first chance to be a football player again, and to say it went well would probably be an understatement.
“I was real surprised; I didn’t feel any pain, I didn’t really get tight at all,” Mathieu said. “I was surprised with where I was at, but I was also pleased with what I’ve been doing.”
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