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Hobbs Column: Mathieu bigger threat to offensive game plans than society

Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 10:14 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Tyrann Mathieu was back Wednesday wearing LSU gear in the Tigers’ indoor practice facility, lining up in a secondary with Tharold Simon and Eric Reid — just like old times.

The Honey Badger, he said, is still in rehab (and Mathieu has divorced his former persona).

Neither are ever going to play for LSU again, but they were welcome to the practice field again for the Tigers’ Pro Day, which in recent years seems to attract enough NFL scouts and coaches to fill the upper deck of Tiger Stadium.

Mathieu spent a lot of time talking to new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (Sean Payton was also there) and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

He did not do the stuff they like to measure, the vertical leaps and sprints and shuttle runs. He said he was content to let his numbers from the NFL combine hold up there, but he did do position-specific drills, joining Reid and Simon in what should have been LSU’s secondary last season.

Les Miles was there, of course, looking like a proud papa as he watched his former wards audition to become millionaires. He was even chatting amicably with Mathieu, the star player he had no choice but to kick off the team last August for alleged repeated failed drug tests.

Miles would probably still like to wring the Honey Badger’s neck. Instead, Miles said he’s heard from many NFL teams intrigued with getting the same kind defensive mischief Mathieu can bring to a team.

“I tell them he’s a great teammate,” Miles said. “He’s a big-time player. He will have a natural intuitive sense for big plays. He’ll make somebody’s NFL roster a lot better.”

My guess is that the NFL will be just as forgiving toward Mathieu, even though he could be considered a repeat offender. His response to being kicked off the LSU team was to go through well-publicized rehab. Shortly afterward, he was arrested for simple possession of marijuana.

The first rehab, he admitted, was for show. This one is for himself.

Now he has had the counsel and support of rock-solid former teammate Patrick Peterson (now an All-Pro) and he has the enthusiastic endorsement of Mr. Deion Sanders himself.

Still, because of the lingering questions, Mathieu is seen as a third-rounder at best, probably later.

Had those questions not been there, it’s quite likely Mathieu would be viewed as going as early as the third round.

So not much has really changed.

When Mathieu was first booted off the LSU team, you read a lot about how stupid he was. Which was true. But the stupidity concerned throwing away his status as a “surefire first-round draft pick.”

Not sure that was ever true.

The NFL has a way of separating fame from the fortune of its first-round picks.

Had he been on the field for his junior season, he might well have played himself into being a certain first-rounder, maybe by merely duplicating his first two incredible seasons at LSU.

Mathieu was the most exciting defensive player I’ve ever seen, just for his instincts and uncanny knack for making big plays.

But I suspect the NFL viewed him then — and now — sort of like one of those really great and exciting college quarterbacks whose measurables don’t really translate into the pro game.

You’d think the league would always be able to find a spot for a “gamer” like Mathieu — maybe, as it sometimes appeared LSU was doing, by inventing a hybrid position for him to play.

Or maybe it just appeared that he was freelancing all those games.

But he was always more of a persistent pest on the field than what you would call a true lock-down cornerback, and he’s still a hair under 5-foot-9 with good but not really eye-popping speed.

Some said Nick Saban and Alabama exposed those shortcomings in the BCS title game, the last game, as it were, Mathieu ever played in for the Tigers.

That will still be the biggest concern about Mathieu, not the off-field stumbles.

Not to minimize it, but at the end of the day, the kid was smoking a little dope. It’s illegal (in most states, though fewer and fewer with each election, it seems) and goes way crossways with clearly spelled out LSU team rules. Those of the NFL, too. But the NFL has dealt with, and managed to tolerate, far more shocking crimes among its highly paid foot soldiers.

Immature? Yeah, it played a factor. A little full of himself with the whole Honey Badger phenomena? Probably so. But otherwise he’s always come across as a decent enough kid. It’s not like he’s ever shown any signs of being a natural-born thug.

He’s still a bigger threat to an offensive game plan than a threat to society and its mores.

The NFL can handle that.

Bottom line: If Mathieu had been able to leave after his sophomore season, the NFL would have had questions about his true cover skills.

After a year away from the game for disciplinary reasons, the NFL mostly has questions about his true cover skills.

That’s about it.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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