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'Honey Badger' regains that old college feeling

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu is a key cog in the Arizona Cardinals’ defense, a safety/nickel cornerback/ballhawk whose presence affects the game.

Only the “Honey Badger” hasn’t been able to fly around as much as he’d like in his first two years in the NFL due to injuries that limited him.

First, he dealt with torn knee ligaments in Week 14 of 2013. Then after a long road to recovery that included sitting out the 2014 season opener, he regained his starting job before a broken thumb that required surgery cost him two games late last season.

Mathieu is putting all of that behind him as he opens training camp at full strength. He picked off a pass in front of the huge crowd on the first day of camp practice Saturday and the fans roared with delight as he high-stepped into the end zone.

“I’m just excited about being healthy, being out there,” Mathieu said. “I was trying to get the crowd into the practice. It can get a little boring at times.”

Mathieu began to show signs of being 100 percent during OTAs and minicamp. He regained his confidence.

“It reminds me of me going through my sophomore year at LSU. I really feel healthy, so I’m expecting a lot of big things,” Mathieu said.

“Looks like he’s back to being himself,” coach Bruce Arians said.

Mathieu is easy to spot with his shock of blonde-dyed hair, and easy to recall when one is reminded of his Heisman Trophy finalist designation in 2011 and his battles with marijuana that cost him his place on the LSU football team and hurt his draft stock.

He served jail time and went through rehabilitation, turning his life around to become a fan favorite in Arizona.

“I’m a little guy. I think a lot of the fans, they don’t really expect me to go out there and compete with the Calvin Johnsons, but when I do it, I think those guys, they can relate to me,” the 5-foot-9, 186-pound defensive back said.

Mathieu admits he’s still “on that journey” of being drug free.

“I’ve had a lot of positive people come into my life. I’ve had great support,” he said. “I just try to stay positive. For me, I remember those dark times and I know what type of person I am. If I tell myself something enough, then I’ll believe it.”