Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu seems poised to build on a promising preseason after a down 2014.
NFL coaches have laser-like focus, so it's hard for them to notice anything outside their scope of responsibility during football season.
But back in 2011, it was impossible for Saints coach Sean Payton – or anyone in Louisiana, really -- to ignore Tyrann Mathieu, the fearsome LSU defensive back with the streak of bleached hair and the 'Honey Badger' moniker.
"We don't get to see a ton of college games, but he was like lore down here," Payton said.
There's always been a natural magnetism to the personality and play of Mathieu. Eyes gravitate to him on the field because it looks like he's having more fun than anyone else. And then, the moment the attention wanes, he will make the type of play which spotlights him again.
That's why, for Mathieu, last year was so tough. An impressive rookie season was cut short by an ACL tear, and he didn't feel right for the first six weeks of 2014 while still recuperating. Mathieu began rounding into form in late October, but a broken thumb in Week 13 against the Falcons limited his effectiveness the rest of the way.
Although he played in 13 games in both 2013 and 2014, Mathieu's numbers decreased nearly across the board.
"I was virtually invisible last year," Mathieu said. "I have to make up for last year, and then I have to put positive tape on things this year. The biggest thing is, you just get to a point where you want to be respected."
It's no secret Mathieu has been one of the stars of training camp and the preseason for the Cardinals. There are high expectations for him, and this first regular season opponent seems fitting. The New Orleans native had his first career interception of Drew Brees in the Superdome in 2013, and now he will try to jumpstart his career against the Saints.
Mathieu still has a loyal following in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but for many, it will be a suspended allegiance on Sunday.
"Most of those guys are Saints fans," Mathieu said. "I know where their loyalty is. For me, I'm just trying to ruin the party, man. I've got to go out there and make some plays."
FLOYD CONFIDENT HE WILL PLAY AGAINST SAINTS
While officially categorized as questionable, coach Bruce Arians and wide receiver Michael Floyd are both confident last year's leading receiver will play in the opener.
Floyd (hand) has been listed as a limited participant
in practice each of the past three days, and believes he has made enough progress to give it a go.
"If I didn't feel I could play, I wouldn't be practicing at all," Floyd said. "I would just be mentally into the offensive playbook and helping out the other receivers. But I feel good. We'll see what happens Sunday."
Tight ends Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and Troy Niklas (hamstring) are also listed as questionable. All three will be game-time decisions, Arians said.
The Saints who won't play are running back C.J. Spiller (knee), safety Jairus Byrd (knee), cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe) and linebacker Davis Tull (shoulder). Running back Tim Hightower (knee) is probable.
A DREAM REALIZED FOR CARDINALS ROOKIES
After months of preparation here and years of toiling beforehand, many of the Cardinals' rookies will make their NFL debut on Sunday. Third-round pick David Johnson said the moment of realization will likely come when he arrives to the stadium, puts on his jersey and heads out to the field as fans pack the stadium full.
"Out of everyone that's been starting since third grade, fourth grade, I made it to the professionals," Johnson said. "I'm definitely excited. I can't wait for Sunday to come to show what I have."
Second-round pick Markus Golden said the moment won't be too big for him since a raucous crowd was customary during his days at Missouri, but it doesn't take away from the excitement level.
"My mom came down and my little cousins are going to be at home watching in St. Louis," Golden said. "Everybody's going to be watching."
Images of key players on this week's opponent, the New Orleans Saints