GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu was in pads and on the practice field Wednesday.
It was a big milestone for the defensive back, who is working his way back after tearing his ACL and LCL in a Week 14 win over the St. Louis Rams a little more than eight months ago.
After the practice -- his first this season -- Mathieu tweeted, "Felt like a Toddler taking my first steps today out on field with my teammates. Tomorrow is a chance to gain more confidence."
To expect Mathieu to just show up and be the same player he was prior to the injury would be unfair. The 22-year-old has a lot of rust to knock off, and will need to regain any lost confidence in the process.
The Cardinals are planning on bringing their young star along slowly, which makes plenty of sense given what kind of future he is expected to have for the team.
"We'll keep them in individual drills for a day or two, see how they respond to that, and gradually up their snaps in team drills," Arians said of the plan for both Mathieu and Alameda Ta'amu, who was also activated from the PUP list Tuesday following knee surgery.
At his current pace, it would not be a surprise to see Mathieu lining up with the team when it takes on the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football to open the season. While that would appear to be an amazing feat given the severity of the defensive back's injury, at this point it almost seems foolish to ever doubt him.
"Hopefully it puts me in position to be ready for the opener," Mathieu said of returning now. "I think my trainers and my coaches, they've been kind of working together. They obviously knew that was my goal, so they've been real thoughtful about me through this whole process."
As it is, Mathieu will be wearing a brace on his knee for the duration of the season, which is something the training staff recommended he do. He's been wearing it for the last two months, so there is a comfort level with it. There is also an expectation of soreness and tightness this season, but Mathieu says he'll keep positive thoughts and push through it.
"Just his overall game speed, there's no limps or any of those types of things," Arians said of what he'll be looking for with Mathieu over the next couple weeks. "It's playing at this game speed. For him to play on Monday Night he's going to have to get some game speed before then.
"Practice speed is one thing, game speed is another."
However long it takes for Mathieu to be ready for game action, the Cardinals are certainly pleased that Mathieu is at this point. Arians said, "It's always good to have that smile back on the field," and in a way the timing could not have been better.
With Darnell Dockett being lost for the season with his own ACL injury, the Cardinals could certainly afford the kind of good news that comes with Mathieu's return.
Their defense will also be better with him.
"You don't have to substitute because he has corner ability," Arians said of what Mathieu brings to the defense. "He's a safety that can cover. He can play in the slot, he can go out wide. You can stay in your base-package and really you still have three corners out there with him. Also great range in the deep end of the field.
"He allows us to do a lot of different things. Not that we can't do them with Rashad (Johnson) and Tony (Jefferson), but they don't have quite the coverage skills that he has as a corner."