The Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu said he is trying to focus on being better at free safety when he plays there this season.
Tyrann Mathieu doesn't like sharing his goals anymore, not publicly. But Wednesday, in a giving mood, the veteran did give a peek into a focus point coming into training camp.
After trying to play free safety last season, unhappy he was back there – he'd rather play the slot -- Mathieu wanted to change his attitude and his play when he was in the position. Thus far, he feels like he's succeeded.
"I'm really playing free safety like a free safety," Mathieu said Wednesday.
The Cardinals put Mathieu at free safety last season in large part to get him on the field while protecting the knees that had each undergone ACL surgery. It was practical. But Mathieu didn't get to be Mathieu, which impacted his play.
"I just never really did it, never really practiced it, I never really took pride in it," Mathieu said.
The reason was simple. Mathieu likes to be near the line of scrimmage, in the middle of the action, able to jump slants or blitz or cover out of the slot.
Free safety is "just boring," Mathieu said. "Everything is going on in front of you and you're … the safety. I just like being in the mix of things. So I had to challenge myself."
It's crucial for the Cardinals for Mathieu to come to that realization. Mathieu won't always be at free safety. He won't even be there the majority of the time. But with the addition of Budda Baker – who has many of the same attributes as Mathieu in terms of blitzing and playmaking – along with Antoine Bethea and Tyvon Branch, Mathieu will need to be able to play there at times this season.
"I challenged myself to play the position, to understand the position," Mathieu said. "I feel like I'm getting better at it."
Mathieu has had an excellent training camp, frequently getting his hands on pass deflections or interceptions regardless of where he is stationed.
"I have to see it in games," coach Bruce Arians said. "It's one thing in practice, it's another thing in games. The opportunities he creates … he should be back to the player he was."
Mathieu emphasized he still rather would play nickel than be back as the free safety. But he's in a better place with having to play there when needed.
"Frankly I just have to stay available," said Mathieu, with a nod to his past injuries. "I feel like my coach can do a lot of things with me."
Images from the 16th practice of #CardsCamp