It has not taken very long for the Tyrann Mathieu Redemption Tour to pick up steam. The rookie has been one of the talks of Cardinals' camp thus far, and he backed up the hype with a strong showing against Green Bay in his NFL debut -- Mathieu recorded a sack, pass break-up, 24-yard punt return and two tackles.
The next step will come Saturday, when Mathieu gets a start at free safety in the Cardinals' home preseason opener against Dallas. Mike Jurecki first reported that lineup change, with No. 1 safety Rashad Johnson likely out for the game due to an MCL and ankle sprain.
No matter how you slice it, this is a significant early moment in Mathieu's Cardinals career. Arizona took a shot on the controversial former LSU star with the 69th-overall pick in this year's draft, then immediately began celebrating that decision as Mathieu has looked every bit the steal so far.
"He was all over the field," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of Mathieu's performance vs. Green Bay, per the team's website. "That’s the way he’s been practicing every day."
Mathieu played slot corner at LSU, and that's where he was for most of his snaps against Green Bay in preseason Week 1. Arizona immediately began working him out as a safety after drafting him, however, a nod to his versatile ball skills. That he's already seeing time as a return man indicates that the Cardinals are not hesitating to add responsibilities to his plate -- and we know from Mathieu's days as an electric special-teams player at LSU that he can be dangerous there.
Even when Johnson returns to action, it's not out of the question that Mathieu continues pushing him for playing time. The Cardinals re-signed Johnson this offseason to a three-year, $4.8 million deal and would be plenty comfortable starting him next to Yeremiah Bell in the secondary. Johnson, though, has just 14 starts in four years with the Cardinals (nine in 2011) and may be more productive in a rotational role. Mathieu, on the other hand, clearly has a high ceiling, assuming he can continue to keep himself on the straight and narrow as an NFL player. That Mathieu can excel as a slot corner really should come as no secret at this point, even after a year off from football. If he delivers an equally impressive showing as a starter at safety this weekend, the Cardinals may have no choice but to get him in the lineup extensively in the regular season.