Don't call Arizona Cardinals rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu the Honey Badger, but you can call him a starter.
Mathieu, the controversial former LSU defensive back, replaced Rashad Johnson with the first-team defense in Tuesday's practice and will start this week's preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys because of Johnson's knee injury.
Johnson has a sprained ankle and a sprained medial collateral ligament.
Mathieu has impressed as a nickel cornerback and safety early in preseason.
"He can cover sideline to sideline. He's shown the range, he's shown the speed to fill the alley, and I know he can tackle," coach Bruce Arians said. "He knows how to play nickel. He's played it his whole life, so that's a natural for him. I love the competition that he's bringing, picking up some older guys' games to stay with him."
Mathieu was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, then was dismissed from school for repeated failed drug tests. He checked into rehab, he says for marijuana use, but faced additional charges in October when police found bags of pot in his apartment near the LSU campus.
His history gave many teams pause, and led the Cardinals to custom-craft a contract that pays him only if he's not suspended for substance abuse. He gets $662,500 spread over three seasons as his signing bonus.