A lot has been said/written about Tyrann Mathieu over the last six weeks. Very little of it has been related to his on-field ability — and that’s despite his move to free safety with the Cardinals, who drafted him in the third round and have playing time up for grabs following the departure of starter Kerry Rhodes.
That conversation was furthered a bit Monday morning, though, thanks to Carson Palmer. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Palmer’s practice-time observations of Mathieu have led him to an interesting comparison:
“He reminds of Troy Polamalu with his closing speed,” Palmer said of Mathieu. “He might not be the fastest guy out there, but he can change directions and get to the ball really fast, like Troy.”
King points out that this quote came after Mathieu, working with the first team for at least part of the OTA he observed, “made a diving pass break-up of a Palmer throw and was buzzing around plays all through the workout.”
If Mathieu is the next Polamalu — or if he’s anything close, really — he was the steal of the draft at No. 69 overall.
Whether he actually is that remains to be seen, but Palmer would know all about Polamalu since he played and roomed with him at USC. He also spent eight years playing for the Bengals and going against the Steelers twice a year.
The comparison makes some sense on two levels.
The first: Polamalu is relatively small for a safety — he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 207 pounds — and Mathieu isn’t far off of that at 5-9, 186. The second: Polamalu survived and thrived by getting to the ball like crazy — in Palmer’s last year in Cincinnati, for example, Polamalu had 63 tackles, seven picks, 14 passes defended, a sack and a forced fumble — and Mathieu knows a little somethin’ about that. In his final season at LSU, Mathieu was the Bednarik Award winner (as the best defensive player in the country) and a Heisman finalist while playing corner and some nickelback, ending the year with a team-leading 76 tackles, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, nine passes defended and four touchdowns.
In other words, Polamalu’s skill set and playing style are similar to Mathieu’s. Actually translating that to the field is an entirely different matter, but generating comparisons to a seven-time Pro Bowler after just a couple weeks of OTAs is a positive development (to say the least) for Mathieu and for the Cardinals.