Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson practices against the Chargers on Tuesday at Qualcomm Stadium.
SAN DIEGO – To truly feel at home, there was one thing Tony Jefferson needed when he arrived in Southern California with the Cardinals on Monday night.
“I did have my mom bring me some Mexican food,” the fourth-year safety and San Diego native said. “I won’t lie. Tacos El Gordo.”
Jefferson has been an unofficial tour guide for teammates and media during this five-day trip, dispensing advice on the best places to go in his hometown. It’s a role Jefferson has embraced – “Just follow my lead and I’ll take you to the promised land,” he said – and it comes as little surprise, as he has always been one of the louder and more entertaining voices in the locker room.
Interestingly, though, one thing coach Bruce Arians didn’t hear enough of in past years was Jefferson’s communication on the field. Safety Rashad Johnson had been the point man in the Cardinals secondary as Jefferson began his career, but now with Johnson gone, there is that void to fill.
Jefferson has started speaking up more in team meetings and barking out calls on the field.
“That’s one thing I had to do,” Jefferson said. “Step up and be a leader. I’ve done some things that caught some people by surprise. Usually I’m not as vocal, but I’ve been pretty vocal. I’m the guy talking back there in the secondary and doing all the checks. A lot of guys are looking to me to get the answers.”
It’s a big season for Jefferson. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, hopes to prove he’s a worthy investment for a team moving forward. He slimmed down this offseason in order to perform better in coverage, and he’s turned the volume up.
“He looks really good,” Arians said. “He’s communicating better. He was one of our captains last week. That speaks volumes.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson’s quick wit is in midseason form. He has a lot of family and friends heading to the game on Friday, but since it’s only the preseason, it’s not a hefty charge, so he’s not footing the bill.
“I told my parents I looked at the price of tickets,” Jefferson said. “I was like, ‘You guys can get your own tickets.’”
MATHIEU UPBEAT AS RETURN NEARS
Safety Tyrann Mathieu was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday but only to take mental repetitions with the team. That could morph into individual drills during practices as early as next week, he said.
Mathieu, who tore his ACL on Dec. 20, would like to make a return in the preseason, but doesn’t think it’s imperative.
“I think the preseason is the time when you jell with your teammates,” Mathieu said. “You use that time to work on fundamentals, work on the scheme. Obviously there’s some importance in it, but I don’t think it’s a rush to get back out there.”
The star safety will be sporting a different brace than the one he wore following his return from the torn ACL he suffered near the end of his rookie season. That brace bugged him, but the new one is more comfortable.
“Obviously any brace has some restriction to it, but that one is way lighter,” Mathieu said. “I feel way looser. And with this injury, it’s not as severe as the last one. So I’m not thinking as much. I’m just going.”
Mathieu struggled in 2014 after his first ACL tear, but is feeling much more confident this time around. He has lofty goals, but ones he doesn’t want to share publicly.
“I don’t want to break the internet,” he said with a large smile.
A REUNION WITH KEN WHISENHUNT
Ken Whisenhunt, who coached the Cardinals for six seasons including the 2008 Super Bowl year, is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. He spent time before practice on Tuesday and Wednesday catching up with former players who are still with the Cardinals.
He’s enjoyed that interaction, but admitted it’s still strange to be coaching against them.
“It’s a little different for me, to be honest,” Whisenhunt said. “Our quarterbacks wear red jerseys, and I said, ‘That’s a little too weird for me.’ But it’s good. Obviously I wore red for a number of years.”
FITZGERALD, MATHIS TAKE THE DAY OFF
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and guard Evan Mathis were among the players who missed practice on Wednesday, although it was assumed to be a veteran’s day off for both of them.
Linebacker Alex Okafor did rehab on the side. Others who missed the practice were defensive tackle Ed Stinson (muscle injury), defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (ankle), wide receiver Brittan Golden (hamstring), cornerback Alan Ball (unknown), cornerback Asa Jackson (leg), wideout John Brown (concussion), center Taylor Boggs (calf), defensive tackle Iosia Iosia (unknown) and guard Earl Watford (knee).
Safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), cornerback Justin Bethel (foot) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle) were activated from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday but haven’t practiced.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins (broken hand) and nose tackle Corey Peters (plantar fasciitis) have returned this week.
Images from the joint practice between the teams on Tuesday night