No matter what former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu did off the field in his collegiate career, NFL teams were going to take a much closer look at the "Honey Badger" if he came to Indianapolis and had solid workouts at the scouting combine. Mathieu, a Heisman finalist after the 2011 season, was kicked off the Tigers' defense before the 2012 season began after repeated violations of the team's substance abuse policy.
Though he put up just four reps at 225 pounds in the bench press drill (most defensive backs can do at least 10 more), Mathieu started out very well when it counted in the 40-yard dash on Tuesday morning. Inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Mathieu ran an unofficial 4.43 40, which was about as good a time as anyone could have expected for a guy who spent the last year in rehab, trying to put his life back together. Mathieu ran a 4.5 flat in his second attempt -- again, both times are unofficial at this time. He also looked smooth in the backpedal drills, turning and running quickly. In the longer rotation/catch drill, Mathieu stayed low to the ground, rotated well, and was confident enough in his ability to run to the spot of the throw to high-point both catches.
All in all, not a bad little day for a guy who desperately needed a great showing.
Asked this week if he's more of a project player since he was out of football for a full season, Mathieu said last Sunday from the combine that he still has the skills.
"I think my football skills speak for [themselves]. I don't think I lost a step. I'm not totally focused on football right now. It's more about the person and getting those things I've done wrong corrected."
Well, this helps. Before the combine, many analysts saw Mathieu as a third-day pick, for on-field and off-field reasons. As dynamic a player as he can be, Mathieu will most likely struggle to play outside cornerback at 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds. Cornerback is more of a height/weight/speed position these days, but the good news for Mathieu is that he has an ideal stature and skillset to play slot corner. And with NFL defenses playing more nickel and dime packages than ever before, slot corners are basically starters.
Mathieu will still have a lot to prove, but as much as Manti Te'o's workout yesterday was an unmitigated disappointment, this start for Mathieu is a major victory for the player.
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