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Moment Of Truth For Tyrann Mathieu

Notes: Star safety makes return from torn ACL Sunday; Bucket challenge is back; Gronk ailing

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Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu practiced in training camp but has yet to play in a game.


Tyrann Mathieu will make his return from a torn ACL in Sunday night's regular season opener against the Patriots.

But will he be the Honey Badger who terrorized offenses a season ago?

The Cardinals' safety was one of the best players in the NFL in 2015 before he suffered the second major knee injury of his career in Week 15 against the Eagles.

Mathieu returned late in training camp, but has yet to see action in a game. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher raved about Mathieu's performance in practice on Thursday and said "he's where he left off last year."

While that's been a common refrain from the coaching staff, Mathieu has been more muted. When asked if he's back to 100 percent, Mathieu paused for a moment.

"I'll be out there," Mathieu said, "so we'll see."

When Mathieu tore his ACL as a rookie, he returned to game action quickly the next year, but was noticeably less dynamic at the start. This injury wasn't deemed as severe, so there is optimism he can make a big impact immediately, but cornerback Patrick Peterson wouldn't be surprised to see a measured build during a long season.

"We're still going to let him play football, but I reckon we're going to take it slow with him the first couple of weeks, for sure," Peterson said.

Mathieu at less than perfect health can still be a key piece. From his football smarts to his passion to his talent, he impacts the game in a variety of ways.

"If I'm out there, I'm going to make some plays," Mathieu said. "I just want to be prepared mentally. Physically, I'm all right. We'll see how it goes."

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is one of many teammates excited to have Mathieu's infectious personality back on the field.

"Just from a morale standpoint, losing him last year was like a kick to the stomach," Fitzgerald said. "You see a guy who has battled back from injury and to see it happen again was demoralizing for all of us. You feel sorry for him and you also feel sorry for your team because you lose such a major part of it. But we're glad that's behind us."

NEW BLOOD FOR THE BUCKET CHALLENGE

The Cardinals' bucket challenge returns to practice on Friday, with two new quarterbacks ready to join Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Peterson in the competition.

Recently-signed practice squad signal-callers Aaron Murray and Zac Dysert will loft footballs at the trash bucket, knowing full well the consequences if they are the least accurate. The loser is forced to dress up in a hilarious and often risqué outfit picked out by the other contestants.

"I saw (Matt) Barkley a couple times (last year)," Dysert said. "I kind of forgot about it. Now that you (bring it up), it's hilarious."

Murray said he will take it in stride if he ever finishes as the loser, but would like to be on the other side and help select the outfit.

"I can Google some stuff when we get cranking, ask some friends," Murray said. "It'll be fun."

There are some details to iron out, since practice squad members don't often travel and the loser before a road game is supposed to wear his outfit on the team plane. But Peterson is pumped for another year of the competition.

"I can't wait," he said.

GRONKOWSKI DEALING WITH HAMSTRING INJURY

The Patriots will be without star quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday, and now there is some question about the availability of star tight end Rob Gronkowski. He was a limited participant in practice for the second straight day on Thursday with a lingering hamstring issue and told reporters he's not 100 percent.

Peterson knows the challenge Gronkowski presents when on the field.

"As an athlete, the guy is unreal," Peterson said. "He's done some things receivers can't even do. He's going to end up shattering tight end records."

Other Patriots listed as limited participants were guard Jonathan Cooper (foot), defensive lineman Trey Flowers (shoulder), guard Shaq Mason (hand), linebacker Shea McClellin (shoulder), wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (elbow) and tackle Nate Solder (hamstring).

Cardinals linebacker Lamar Louis (knee) and running back Stepfan Taylor (knee) returned to practice in a limited capacity. Cornerback Justin Bethel (foot) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (neck) were also limited. Linebacker Kareem Martin (knee) didn't practice and won't play.

Images of past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the New England Patriots



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