TEMPE, Ariz. — Tyrann Mathieu isn’t the Honey Badger of old just yet, and it’s by his own choice.
Barely eight months since surgery to repair a torn ACL, Mathieu’s right knee is not ready for the rigors of scrambling all over the field as he did last season, a performance that earned him an All-Pro selection.
Coach Bruce Arians said he’s waiting for Mathieu to come to him to say he’s ready.
The message from Mathieu this week: not yet.
So he will line up strictly at free safety when the Cardinals play at Buffalo on Sunday.
“Every day it eats at me because I’m not able to do what I want to do,” Mathieu said. “But my coaches, they keep me encouraged. They keep me positive. I think that’s what’s really been helping me stay patient.”
He said that after the season opener against New England, “I felt really sore.”
“This past Sunday I felt better than the previous week,” Mathieu said. “I think as time continues to go on, the little soreness, tightness, tendinitis, once those things go away, I’ll know that I’m ready to get back to what I normally do.”
Defensive coordinator James Boettcher said Mathieu remains “a game wrecker.”
“Wherever he lines up, he’s going to affect the game,” Boettcher said.
It’s against Mathieu’s aggressive nature to patiently wait for the soreness to go away.
“Definitely a sign of maturity,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Ty understands what he means to this team and we definitely need him in the long haul. The coaching staff is doing a great job of just easing him into the game plan, make sure that he’s ready as much as possible when we really need him in October, because that’s when you really find out the kind of team you have.”
Mathieu said the worst part of his recovery is over, the monotonous rehabilitation process.
“Dealing with depression,” he said. “Getting down on yourself and just having to do the same thing over and over again. Everybody else is on vacation, you’ve got to go to work. That was probably the hardest part.”
It was Mathieu’s second knee injury in three seasons. He tore his left ACL in 2013.
The latest injury occurred in Week 15 of last season at Philadelphia and was less severe than the previous one, but Mathieu knew what he was in for.
He knows the effect the wear and tear of playing all over the field has on his legs.
“I think last year, I don’t know the percentage, but I was running a lot more than everybody else on the team, running back and forth, nickel, the different things I was doing,” he said.
Once he can do that again without soreness, he will be back to his Honey Badger ways.
In the meantime, he’s learning a new position.
“I like playing in the box, where instinct is going to take over,” Mathieu said, “but when you’re playing in the middle of the field you’ve got to kind of control your instincts, because they can throw the ball over your head and it will be a touchdown. It’s a new challenge for me. Like I told my coach, it’s one of those things I want to challenge myself personally to get done, even though it may not be the role I play as the season goes on. It’s something I definitely want to conquer.”