Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu is gearing up for the season in a different way in 2017.
Not even a year ago, while the Cardinals were in San Diego in August for a practice against the Chargers, Tyrann Mathieu wore a smile on the day he came off the PUP list, noting "I already got my goals listed."
Some nine months later, the goals are gone.
"I'm not even trying to think about goals," Mathieu said. "I'm just trying to win today."
The safety is healthy again. The Cardinals are counting on him to be great – 2015 great, the season where Mathieu was the Honey Badger everyone loved and he became a destructive weapon on defense. At least until he tore his ACL late in the season, another injury in a string that have dogged him in his career.
He played most of last season but he wasn't Mathieu. He didn't reach those goals he set for himself, slow to be the player he had been while coming back from the knee injury and later sidelined for good with a shoulder problem. He was admittedly frustrated, both with his own play and the subpar play of the team.
It is a serious Mathieu who will try it again in 2017.
"I'm more confident," Mathieu said. "When you are injured, have injuries, have an up-and-down year, you tend to lose confidence. You're not really having that much fun. It's important for me to have fun this year. Not think about expectations or goals."
Mathieu doesn't smile when he says this. Whether he completely lost confidence in himself last season he doesn't say.
Teammate Patrick Peterson doesn't believe it. To Peterson, it was strictly the physical side of the comeback, the discomfort Mathieu had both physically and mentally wearing the protective knee brace following the ACL tear. Mathieu has discarded the knee brace this offseason.
"The way he plays, he needs to be free at all times," Peterson said. "He can't have anything holding him
back. That's what he thrives off of, that's what gets the Honey Badger going. I would never say he'd lose his confidence."
Peterson said he thinks Mathieu will have his "best year yet" and understands his body better than before. Mathieu said earlier this offseason he was going to try and play about 10 pounds heavier, to gird his body for the rigors of the season.
"He had a chance to be Defensive Player of the Year," coach Bruce Arians said. "You've got to be able to finish it out."
Peterson is right – it's difficult to envision Mathieu lacking confidence. Mathieu himself admitted his game his whole life has been built on confidence in himself, believing he could do whatever he needed. It was necessary being smaller. It's crucial now.
It's why Mathieu has put aside the tangible of the goal sheet for the intangible to "win today."
"I just need to get back to my roots, tune out all the noise, and really focus on myself," Mathieu said. "At times you put people's opinions and expectations over your own. It messes with you mentally, physically, spiritually. You just have to quiet the noise."
Images from the third OTA from 2017