Honey Badger hoping for a shot
FAIRHOPE, Ala. - Maybe the most intriguing NFL draft prospect hanging around on the first day of Senior Bowl week isn't even a participant in the Senior Bowl festivities.
Remember Tyrann Mathieu?
Mathieu, a 2011 All-American cornerback who didn't play football last fall after being kicked off of LSU's team, is hoping NFL decision makers do -- and that come April one team will be willing to invest in what Mathieu insists will be a clean and bright future.
With the eyes of the NFL in Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl week, Mathieu is, too. On the advice of agent Patrick Lawlor, he's here Monday and Tuesday with the intent of getting to meet NFL scouts and general managers and make the kind of positive impression a player in his situation needs to make.
"I just want to shake some hands, look people in the eyes," Mathieu said. "I haven't scripted any answers to any questions. This is the real Tyrann right now."
But can the real Tyrann be trusted? Has he really grown from his mistakes?
One of college football's best players at any position in the 2011 season, Mathieu was removed from LSU's team last August, reportedly for failing multiple drug tests. Mathieu, who entered a drug rehab program early last fall, has admitted excessive marijuana use, and he has criminal charges pending following an October arrest for simple marijuana possession.
Since that October arrest he's been mostly living and working out in South Florida with the father of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Mathieu's former LSU teammate and also a Lawlor client.
Mathieu said he made the decision to enter the NFL Draft rather than attempt to return to LSU or play at another school because "I'm ready to be a football player. In college I had a lot of distractions. I let them get to me. I'm ready to (lock in) and play football at the highest level."
The player known by many as "Honey Badger" was still sporting his recognizable blonde mohawk, though it was covered by an LSU hat at Fairhope High School Monday afternoon. Surrounded by crimson-clad Alabama fans who came to see the South team practice, Mathieu recalled LSU's loss to Alabama as the toughest part of the 2012 football season.
"The screen pass," he said, referring to the 28-yard T.J. Yeldon touchdown that won the game for the Crimson Tide. "I was yelling at the TV, 'Screen pass, screen pass.' It sucked. I'm starting to appreciate the little things. Football players putting football first, just the football culture.
"I miss the game a lot. So much. Being away from it you just miss everything -- the guys on the team, practice, little things. You appreciate the coaches hollering at you. You appreciate just the privilege of playing. I risked all that."
Mathieu will have plenty of tough questions to answer at next month's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but his Senior Bowl visit could give him a chance to both make a few impressions and prepare for the line of questioning that lies ahead.
"Those (NFL) guys are definitely going to be concerned about my off the field habits," he said. "But it's definitely something I've cleaned up. I'm molding into a smart young man now. If those guys are able to believe in me, they'll get a guy who's going to inspire an entire team.
"Whatever team drafts me, I'm just looking forward to being the best player, the best leader I can be."
Zac Jackson is covering the Senior Bowl all week. Follow him on Twitter at @FSOhioZJackson.