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Injury Means Tyrann Mathieu Gets Start

With Rashad Johnson ailing, rookie safety gets his first start at home against Cowboys


Rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu, who played in his first game last week in Green Bay, is expected to start Saturday against the Cowboys.

When he looked at the video, rookie Tyrann Mathieu saw himself get lackadaisical in some of his coverages because the Packers weren't throwing the ball his way.

"It's something to polish up," Mathieu said. "I need to realize when I'm in the game it's one play at a time and I need to stay focused."

He'll have plenty of time to work on that Saturday now that he's getting his first start. Free safety Rashad Johnson suffered sprains of his knee and ankle at the end of Monday's practice, and while coach Bruce Arians said it isn't serious, he also said the Cardinals will be cautious with Johnson and that he was doubtful to play against the Dallas Cowboys this weekend.

That means Mathieu slides into his first starting role.

It's a chance that not more than a few months ago, "I couldn't fathom it," Mathieu said. "It was

probably a long shot. I'm just putting in hard work, man, and things are finally starting to come together for me."

At 5-foot-9, Mathieu is far from an imposing free safety. But he already notched a sack in the preseason opener, hit a receiver hard enough a pass was dropped and Mathieu doesn't see his size as being a detriment.

"You just go out and make plays," Mathieu said. "I don't think there's any science to it. Physical characteristics will play its part in certain situations but for the most part, it's all about making plays and being in the right spot at the right time."

That's been Mathieu through camp. He's gotten plenty of praise from Arians, including being called the most dynamic player on defense in terms of playmaking since practice started. Arians also said Johnson has had a good camp, so Mathieu's depth chart elevation will likely be temporary until Johnson returns to the field.

But it's another step for Mathieu, who came into the league a third-round pick with red flags for his drug issues in college. So far, he's wiped the concerns clean while with the Cardinals.

"He's got an unbelievable support system within the team," Arians said, noting veterans like Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and Frostee Rucker among those that will take care of watching out for Mathieu.

"They want to see him succeed," Arians added.

Mathieu said he has been embraced locally since he arrived as a draft pick, hearing encouragement from the fans. That is only building now that he is succeeding on the field again after missing last season.

"I think a lot of people have jumped back on the bandwagon," Mathieu said. "It seems everyone is starting to root for me again, which is definitely encouraging."

His advice from inside the locker room from teammates is to not get caught up in the hype that continues to grow around him, and Mathieu seems content to do that. Extra reps in games, like what he should get against the Cowboys, can only help him with the basic football issues – tackling and other fundamentals – that still need work after spending so much time without having been able to play in a game.

But the hype will be there, even in the preseason, with a home opener against Dallas in a game being shown on the NFL Network.

"It just gives me an opportunity to go help my team," Mathieu said. "Of course I wish Rashad a speedy recovery because he was one of those guys who showed me the ropes from a safety standpoint. But it gives me the opportunity to go out there and be there for my teammates."

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