Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu smiles as he gets back to practice following his ACL tear.
The pads finally were back on, and at first, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Bethel were only going to take part in individual drills.
The defensive backs, both of whom came off the physically-unable-to-perform list last week but did not practice, basically waved that away.
"Coach told me to get a couple plays in," said Mathieu, returning from an ACL tear. "I thought about it and said, 'What are a couple plays gonna do for me?' So I pushed it a little bit, but I feel great."
Bethel, who like Mathieu hadn't played since last season, also thought his injury – a foot -- felt fine. The two of them unexpectedly took part in multiple 11-on-11 snaps, an important step in readying the defense
for the Sept. 11 season opener.
Mathieu, practicing 35 weeks exactly from tearing up his knee in Philadelphia, worked with the first unit at safety. Bethel, who has fallen behind rookie Brandon Williams on the cornerback depth chart, ran with the second unit.
The third player who came off PUP, defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, also got in some 11-on-11 snaps.
"I've made a lot of progress," Rucker said. "It's been a long ride to get here but there's a lot of work to be done."
Mathieu, wearing a brace on his right knee, said he was pleasantly surprised with how good he felt and how there was no pain. The test will be to see how the knee responds to his first work.
But the safety moved well during 11-on-11, and already he was lamenting a missed opportunity during a
play that made many take notice – a "thud" hit on wide receiver J.J. Nelson that knocked Nelson to the ground.
"I felt like I hesitated a little bit," said Mathieu, who estimated he was at 80 percent of his ability. "It was supposed to be an interception, got a big hit. I'll clean that up."
Arians said Mathieu has to work his way back into football in many areas.
"Takes a little time to get in passion shape too," Arians said with a smile.
Mathieu would only call this a "steppingstone" in his rehab, although he sounded like a player optimistic he would be ready for the regular-season opener against the Patriots. Bethel too believes he is trending toward being back by then.
What role Bethel will have is to be determined. Williams has the starting slot right now and Arians said Sunday he thought Williams made improvement during the week in San Diego. Arians added that Bethel should be fine mentally in the competition with Williams – it's what he shows physically.
"Of course I would love to start," Bethel said. "The last couple years I have tried to get to that point and getting injured didn't help me out. But Coach is going to put in who they feel who will do the best. Either way, we will all be out there doing something."
BROWN CLEARED, OKAFOR WILL TRY TO PLAY
It was a day of impactful injury news. Linebacker Alex Okafor, who tore his biceps tendon last week during a practice in San Diego, has decided to play with the injury this season instead of undergoing surgery. Wide receiver John Brown was finally cleared to practice after going through the concussion protocol, although he only took part in individual drills.
Among those not practicing Sunday included G Mike Iupati (knee). Arians said DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle) should return to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.