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Back To Wall, Tyrann Mathieu At His Best

Posted Aug 1, 2017

Safety knows he's under scrutiny, but his life has shown he does well when that happens

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu smiles at the outset of Monday's outside practice.

Tyrann Mathieu has made an effort to “quiet the noise” around him going into the season, but that doesn’t mean he’s quieted his own noise.

As his play ramps up in training camp, it’s not silence that accompanies the interceptions that are starting to come in bunches. It’s the distinctive Mathieu voice hurling words one way or another, sometimes including a choice expletive or two.

The confidence is slowly coming back, which is the only way the Honey Badger can thrive.

“I’m the best player in the world,” he said. “That’s how I feel.”

It can be argued the only way the Cardinals can thrive is with Mathieu at his dynamic best. Arguments can be made about Mathieu’s future. The Cards want Mathieu to rebound, but realistically they have an escape path built into the multi-million dollar contract he signed a year ago, not because he can’t play but because of a health. Mathieu is coming off a down year in 2016, ruined by a lingering shoulder injury and the remnants of his 2015 ACL tear. He has finished three of his four NFL seasons on injured reserve.

He’s been in places like this before, though. Maybe it’s exactly where he needs to be.

“I’m at my best when my back is against the wall,” Mathieu told azcardinals.com. “I don’t think I do very well when, you know, I’m like, OK.”

Mathieu chuckled as he said it. He knows it sounds counterintuitive. But it’s the Badger way.

“It’s stressful, having your back against the wall, but it’s something I take great joy in, coming out on the winning side of it,” he added. “I’ve done that a few times in my life.”

The way Mathieu grew up certainly counts. So does his rally from getting kicked off his college team to succeed in the NFL. Then there was the stellar 2015 season – before his second knee injury – that came after the first knee injury.

So Mathieu came into camp looking to concentrate on fundamentals. He avoided setting goals, something he freely did in the past, so his focus would narrow. He wanted to avoid the “noise” – his catch-all phrase referring to outside expectations and criticism.

He’s hyper-aware there were plenty of people who expected much more out of him last season, who pick apart his game. More than angry such things are floated, Mathieu instead doesn’t like how it helped erode his confidence.

“There is probably public pressure, that this guy has to do it, especially with the contract and the times when he’s been healthy he’s shown he’s one of the more dynamic players in the NFL,” General Manager Steve Keim said. “But the great thing about him, no one puts more pressure on him than himself. There’s no one who wants it more than him.

“He’s had some real tough breaks. But I’d never bet against the guy.”

So Mathieu’s chirping is becoming more and more apparent. After plenty of back and forth after the most recent practices, Mathieu said the number of passes the Cardinals quarterbacks have thrown in his direction is “kind of getting disrespectful.”

The challenge invigorates him. It also helps shows tangibly how far back he’s come.

“He’s getting back to being the player we all recognize,” coach Bruce Arians said.

The past year was not easy on Mathieu. He admitted he still has not really gotten past last season, which likely – given his ACL rehab – was never going to satisfy those looking for the 2015 Mathieu. But it taught him a similar lesson, forcing him to be patient, “which is not really my forte.”

It’s a dangerous Honey Badger backed up against that proverbial wall.

“It’s about gaining that confidence back in myself,” Mathieu said. “Believing in myself more than others may believe.”

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