Last Modified: Friday, November 01, 2013 12:58 PM
The shock isn’t that Tyrann Mathieu has kept his nose clean through the first half of his first NFL season with the Cardinals.
Everybody figured that, since he’s not really an incorrigible thug at heart, there was a good chance he had already used up a lifetime supply of stupid during his days at LSU. Maybe he’d already ran out of ways to mess up his charmed life.
The real head-scratcher is that it turns out the kid can play a little bit in the NFL.
More than a little bit, actually.
That probably surprises more people — particularly those supposedly in the know in the NFL — than those who expected his career to quickly go up in cloud of illegal (in most states) smoke and be done with.
Face it, the NFL is filled with guys partial to the illicit, sometimes synthetic, weed that kept Mathieu in hot water.
It’s not that big of a red flag for NFL teams that figure they can cure it, hide it or live with it as long as no felonies are involved.
The Cardinals were able to get him in the third round because too many wondered if Mathieu wasn’t the defensive version of the great “college” quarterback whose best talents didn’t really fit the skill set of the big boys.
Truth be told, though far from an expert, I wondered the same things. After all, at LSU he didn’t really seem to play a true secondary position. It was more like the Tigers just let him freelance back there and make plays as his instincts saw fit.
Was he a true lock-down cover corner? Was he big enough to support the run in the NFL? Some even wondered if he wasn’t more quick and agile than flat-out fast. There were even those who thought that in his last college game, Alabama exposed him in the BCS title game by going right at him with taller receivers.
It turns out a playmaker is a playmaker.
Thursday Mathieu was named the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month. There is a lot of talk throughout the league that right now he’s got as good of a shot as anybody to be the NFC Rookie Of The Year.
The Cardinals move him around a lot, too. Just stick him somewhere, sit back and wait on the mayhem to start. But mostly he’s playing safety, a spot he played at LSU during one of his best games, against Arkansas, because of injuries.
Not to bore you with statistics, but Mathieu is second on the Cardinals in tackles and interceptions and, according to the team’s website, he’s one of six players in the NFL with two interceptions a sack and a forced fumble.
Those always seemed to be his holy trinity at LSU, didn’t they?
His first career interception came against Drew Brees, not easy to do. His first career sack was against Cam Newton, who’s about twice his size and a bit elusive.
One of Mathieu’s assistant coaches called him “the most instinctive football player” he’s ever seen.
Gee, sound like somebody we remember?
You’re probably daydreaming that, if he hadn’t been such a knucklehead, Mathieu would now be a senior in the LSU secondary, and surely would be making a few plays back there, a rare event thus far this season.
Not a factor, really.
If Mathieu had somehow gotten his act together before LSU really had no choice but to boot him, he surely would have declared for the draft after last season and probably still not be an LSU Tiger right now.
Now, if you want to go back to last year and wonder if the old Honey Badger might have been worth the two or three defensive stops that kept LSU from an undefeated season and another SEC championship (and likely BCS spot against Notre Dame), that’s another story.
The guy is going to make plays. He can’t help it. The step up in competition has only proved that. He did it from his very first game at LSU as a little-known true freshman and he did it in his very first NFL game as a raw rookie, without having played tackle football for a year.
He didn’t owe LSU anything — he provided Tiger fans with way more than a career’s worth of wow-factor highlights in just two years.
Just be happy that the whole Honey Badger saga is apparently going to have a happy ending.
He probably needs an entire offseason away from the structure of football to prove that his other issues are behind him.
Then maybe we can talk about bringing back the Honey Badger persona.
Surely, when he was at his lowest, some shrink told him he had to break ranks with his inner Honey Badger and start his life over clean and fresh.
Probably wise advice.
But … man, that was a great nickname.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org