Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu returns to practice field

After three weeks of fall camp, the Arizona Cardinals finally have Tyrann Mathieu available as he returned to the practice field Sunday.

Tyrann Mathieu has labored through an eventful offseason, and three weeks into fall camp, the Arizona Cardinals' safety is now back in the place he feels most comfortable.

Mathieu returned to the practice field Sunday afternoon after being activated from the team's physically unable to perform list Wednesday and the fourth-year player out of LSU said he felt great. 

"I've got to get my wind back but other than that it felt great, I felt like I moved around pretty good," Mathieu said.

Matieu suffered his second ACL tear in three seasons in December, and his goal from the outset of his injury has been to play at full strength in the Cardinals' 2016 season-opener.

On Sunday, Mathieu inched closer to achieving that goal, and head coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will now focus on helping Mathieu work his way into playing shape.

"There's no doubt, it's just a matter of conditioning now," Arians said. "Football conditioning. Hitting and getting their pad level down and all those things that we've been doing for 15 to 18 days."

After Sunday's practice, Mathieu spoke with the media and said his recovery process from this injury has been much smoother than the rehabilitation Mathieu needed after tearing his ACL during his rookie season.

With three weeks remaining until Arizona's season opener against New England, Mathieu said he's feeling about 80 percent.

"I think the testing part is over with, that's why you rehab and do all those kinds of things," Mathieu said. "Like I said, this is so much different than last time around. I'm pretty sure you guys know last time it was trouble, but this time I feel great." 

As Mathieu begins to take more reps, the Cardinals are hopeful another key defensive piece will return to the practice field soon. First round draft choice Robert Nkemdiche is sidelined with an ankle sprain and has yet to practice during fall camp, but Arians said the team hopes Nkemdiche will be available to start participating again on Wednesday. 

Okafor to play through injury

After Friday's contest against the San Diego Chargers, the Cardinals learned outside linebacker Alex Okafor suffered a significant bicep injury for the second time in his career.

Okafor is the team's third outside linebacker behind Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, and is entering a contract season. The last time Okafor suffered this injury, he opted for season-ending surgery.

On Sunday, Arians confirmed Okafor will attempt to play through pain this time around, but he won't return to practice until his pain becomes manageable. 

"Alex Okafor, who has decided he is going to play with the bicep," Arians said. "It's just going to be a matter of getting the pain tolerance before we get him back out there." 

The Cardinals don't know how the injury will affect Okafor's on-field performance, but the team has a long list of young pass rushers who have flashed impressive skills during camp.

Third-year linebacker Kareem Martin is one of those players, and Martin's evolution since his third round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft has caught the attention of Arians. 

"Kareem (Martin) has changed his body the last two years from a down lineman to an outside linebacker now," Arians said. "Long, lean, he's using his length much better. His power rush is better, so he's been able to use his speed more. And if you don't have a power rush, you're not going to get home."

Many of the pass rushers on the Cardinals' roster including Golden and Martin played defensive end at the college level, but have transitioned to outside linebacker to fit Arizona's defensive scheme.

Arians said one of the challenges of player development is finding players who can make that transition successfully, because it's often a hit-or-miss process. 

"All 3-4 teams have the same problem," Arians said. "You draft smaller defensive ends hoping you can make them outside backers, some can, some can't."

In the Cardinals' first two preseason games, the team has struggled in a number of different facets. Still, Arizona's pass rushing depth looks like it should be one of the team's strengths heading into the season, especially if Okafor is able to find adapt to playing with an injury.

Arians said the Cardinals won't read too much into their disappointing preseason results, considering the first team offense and defense have only seen limited game action.

"I think the tendency is to say woe is me," Arians said. "But when our starters have played 15 plays, no 20 plays maybe, that's not even a good half. So we've had bad halves before and come back and won games, so it's not a doomsday situation by any stretch of the imagination."

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