Mathieu back at practice, eyes season-opener

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu returned to full practice Wednesday for the first time since tearing his ACL and LCL Dec. 8 against St. Louis.

After season-ending knee surgery last year, Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu returned to practice on Wednesday.

Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu has had little means to gauge how close he is to game speed. For the first three-plus weeks of training camp, he rehabbed his surgically repaired knee outside with trainers.

But another injured Cardinal offered him some encouraging reports.

"Michael Floyd's been up there with me the last couple weeks and he says I look pretty good," Mathieu said. "That goes a long ways." 

Mathieu will get a much better read in the next two weeks as he sets his sights on playing in the season opener Sept. 8 against the San Diego Chargers. The popular Cardinals free safety was back at full practice Wednesday with teammates for the first time since tearing his ACL and LCL Dec. 8 against the Rams. 

Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu also came off the PUP list and returned to practice Wednesday.

"We'll keep them in individual drills for a day or two and see how they respond to that," coach Bruce Arians said, "gradually up their snaps in team drills."

Mathieu has said repeatedly that his biggest concerns are being able to match the speed of his secondary mates so as not to disrespect the work they've put in all camp, and being able to match up with elite receivers like Fitzgerald and Floyd.

"I'm going to work my way back in. I don't want to step on anybody's toes. I want to earn my right on the field," he said. "I'm just waiting for that moment when I really get tested. Then I'll know for sure whether I'm the same player or if I need to pick it up a little bit." 

Mathieu has a knowledgeable shoulder to lean on for experience from such an injury -- new teammate Desmond Bishop, who suffered a torn ACL in 2012 while with Green Bay.

"He said after that first moment, you realize you can do it," Mathieu said. "He said it was all downhill from there."

Mathieu will wear a brace for the entire season, a reality he says he's not fond of, but "I have to follow certain guidelines."

With Darnell Dockett joining linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington on the defense's growing list of departed/suspended/injured 2013 starters, Mathieu said it's all the more incumbent on the secondary to prove that it can be the strength of this unit.

"You lost three critical pieces in Karlos and Daryl and now Dockett. That pass rush may not be there this year. We may have to cover a little bit longer," he said. "But that's why Patrick (Peterson) gets paid. That's why we brought (Antonio) Cromartie in here and that's why I've got to step up."

Arians said Mathieu and Ta'amu's quick returns have surprised him so much that he won't be shocked if they play in the season opener, but he will be watching Mathieu closely in practice to determine whether that is a realistic goal.

"For him to play on Monday night, he's going to need to get some game speed before then," Arians said. "Practice speed is one thing; game speed is another."

All the same, it was nice to have some good Cardinals news after the gut-punch loss of Dockett on Monday. Despite his well-chronicled past, Mathieu has been nothing but good news for the Cardinals since his arrival.

"It's always good to have that smile back on the field," Arians said.

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