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Arizona Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu looking to clear latest obstacle, be ready for Week 1

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu smiles at the crowd during training camp. (Photo: Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

Tyrann Mathieu's story has been told quite often.

And it's never a bad thing.

His life has featured some of the highest of highs along with the lowest of lows, but now, heading into his second NFL season he feels a responsibility to the team that drafted him in the third round.

"I'm extremely thankful that Steve (Keim), Mr. Bidwill, they took that chance on me," Mathieu told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. "Every day I just try to hold up my end of the bargain. I try to go to practice and do everything the right way. Play hard and play every play. It was refreshing, it was definitely encouraging that I am here and I am an integral part of our defense."

It didn't take long for Mathieu to go from intriguing prospect to key member of the team. The 5-foot-9, 186-pound safety's season ended early due to knee injuries, but he still finished with 68 total tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one sack.

His rookie campaign went a long way toward rehabilitating his image as one of the most dynamic football players in the game, and his first year in the NFL showed he may be able to get past the troubles that plagued him during his collegiate days at LSU.

But along with questions about his off-the-field character, some wondered whether or not Mathieu, at his size, could be successful in the NFL.

"I heard a lot of people say that I couldn't play on the outside, that I couldn't play cornerback, and that I couldn't run down the field with bigger receivers," he said. "So I just tried to answer that question, first and foremost."

Mathieu, who said he has not used drugs in more than two years, said he realized he could succeed in the NFL when he was matching up with Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald during minicamp, and sometimes coming out ahead.

"I made a couple plays on him," he said. "He made a couple plays on me, but that was when I knew I could hang with the big dogs."

In fact, the "Honey Badger" seemed all but certain to quickly ascend to the top of the NFL. His playmaking ability was unmatched, and he was one of the brightest spots on a very good defense.

But the knee injuries suffered while returning a kick in Week 14 against the Rams ended his season and has left him unable to do much during training camp this year. While he's improving and getting closer to a return, he's still been unable to play football for a long time.

While tough to deal with, his life experience helped better prepare him for the rehab process. After all, it may be tough to stay focused when unable to really be part of the team.

"I think the previous year where I had to sit out of football and I had to obviously right my wrongs and do my counseling and do my rehab and do my therapy, I think all those things helped me at that moment," he said. "I regret going through what I went through, but I think it helped me out a whole lot. Once I got injured and I didn't have football, and I was already in the process of being on top of my recovery and my rehab, so that wasn't the biggest issue. The biggest issue was focusing on my knee and making sure I'm ready for next season."

If anything, the injury and subsequent recovery is just another obstacle Mathieu has to get past. And if previous experience is any indication, he's likely to do just that.

Saying the "dream" and "reality" for when he'll return to the field are pretty much in line with each other, the 22-year-old said he thinks he'll be back sooner than expected.

"I'll know in the next couple of weeks if I'll be ready for game one," he said.

So apparently that's the goal then, to be ready for the season opener on Monday Night Football against the San Diego Chargers.

"I'm definitely shooting for game one."

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