The Arizona Cardinals' Tryann Mathieu. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 5:53 PM
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The shout comes from someone in the crowd at the Arizona Cardinals training camp, "Go Honey Badger."
It's a nickname Tyrann Mathieu wanted to leave behind, a reminder of the sorry premature end to his college career as he looks to make it in the NFL.
"I tried to," he said of his attempt to get rid of the moniker, "but it's on my shoulder. I just go with the flow. We'll see what happens."
It's so far, so good a few days into his first NFL training camp. The Cardinals are helping the likable, diminutive defensive back.
Meanwhile, Mathieu is flying all over the field, trying to make the kind of plays that made him a sensation before everything fell apart in Baton Rouge.
"He's a lovable kid," coach Bruce Arians said on Tuesday. "They want him to succeed. We all do. He knows what it takes and he's got a really good support group."
Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, was kicked off LSU's team before the start of last season for failed drug tests. His image and NFL future took another hit a few weeks later when he and three former teammates were arrested on marijuana charges after police officers found 10 bags of pot and drug paraphernalia in his Baton Rouge apartment.
When he appeared at his introductory news conference with the Cardinals, said he wanted to abandon his nickname of "Honey Badger" because of all the problems associated with his time at LSU.
"I understand that there's a lot of people who love it and can't let it go," he said then, "but for me, I want people to recognize me as Tyrann. I don't have anything against the nickname, it's just that Honey Badger happened during such a dark time."
The Cardinals decided Mathieu's talent was worth the risk, drafting him in the third round. But in an unusual step, Mathieu's contract did not get his entire $662,500 salary bonus at first. He got $265,000 with the remainder spread out over the next three seasons, as long as he does not get suspended for substance abuse.
Meanwhile, he's subjected to periodic drug tests.
"I think everything's going good," Mathieu said. "It's been extremely positive for me. A ton of guys in the locker room, they all support me. I mean, they all knew my situation and they all hold me accountable. I think that's something I needed coming into the NFL."
Mostly a cornerback in college, Mathieu is working at the safety position as well as at corner in the Cardinals' "nickel" configuration.
"He's learning how to play safety," Arians said. "He can cover sideline to sideline. He's shown the range, he's shown the speed to fill the alley, and I know he can tackle. He knows how to play nickel. He's played it his whole life, so that's a natural for him. I love the competition that he's bringing, picking up some older guys' games to stay with him."
Mathieu said he's more comfortable playing inside.
"I'm a ball hawk," he said. "Too many times on the outside you've got to focus on your man rather than just vision the quarterback. I like inside cornerback way more. You see the quarterback and it just gives you more opportunities to make a play."
Arians has talked about putting Peterson and Mathieu both back to receive punts in what could be a devastating combination. Mathieu said Peterson probably doesn't need any help.
"Besides, I doubt if he'd let me catch it," Mathieu joked.
He said he has no desire to get the ball in some kind of "wildcat" formation.
"I'm not an offensive weapon," he said. "I'm a defensive guy who looks good with the ball in his hands. I can't take those hits like that."
At 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, Mathieu does not look like a football player in street clothes. On the field, though, it's a different story.
"Very fast, athletic," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "He has the ability to read plays and get to the ball."
Then he repeated the phrase Mathieu uses to describe himself — "a ball hawk."
Mathieu, who at 21 years and just under three months is the youngest player on Arizona's camp roster, spent most of the offseason in the Phoenix area, working out at the team facility as he tries to make up for the missed season. He said he never had a doubt he could play in the NFL.
"I've always been a confident guy," Mathieu said. "I was just waiting on my opportunity. The Cardinals gave me that chance and I'm just trying to run with it right now.;;
NOTES: Arians said running back Ryan Williams (knee) changed his mind about getting a second opinion and is responding well to treatment. Arians said Williams might be able to practice on Thursday. ... TE Kory Sperry (ankle) and CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring) were hurt during Monday's practice. Neither was serious, Arians said. ... The Cardinals have Wednesday off, then will practice outdoors at their usual training facility in Tempe on Thursday because University of Phoenix Stadium, the training camp location, will be the site of a soccer game between Real Madrid and the L.A. Galaxy.