Wednesday might have been the marquee day among for all the 2013 pro days. USC held its workout on the West Coast, Marcus Lattimore displayed an amazing comeback from a brutal knee injury at South Carolina's exposition, and a bevy of draftable players got it going at LSU's pro day at the school's indoor practice facility. Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo and inside linebacker Kevin Minter are pretty much locks to go in the first round next month, but the most interest may have been in a player projected by most to be selected in the third round or lower -- a player who didn't even play in 2012.
Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, kicked off the team before the 2012 season began for multiple violations of team policy, was back on campus and doing defensive back drills for the NFL teams in attendance. This after a performance at the scouting combine in late February that started Mathieu's stock heading back in the right direction.
It was a reunion that everybody enjoyed - including head coach Les Miles, who had to make that difficult decision last August.
"I tell them he's a great teammate, a big-time player," Miles said to NOLA.com when asked what he tells NFL teams about his former star. "He will commit to whatever your culture is and doing it your way. He will have a natural intuitive sense for big plays. He'll make somebody's NFL roster a lot better."
Mathieu has said all the right things. He's gone through rehab, he's hanging out with LSU alums Patrick Peterson and Corey Webster, and he's trying to convince the NFL that he can keep it together after multiple drug-related incidents saw him coming apart.
"It's extremely exciting," Mathieu said from the scene. "It's humbling too, because of the things I went through the past year. I'm ready for it to be over. I know I made some mistakes. When it comes to football I'm a play-maker and a guy who wants to play hard for the teammates."
Mathieu has often spoken of the other side of himself, that other person who pulled him in all the wrong directions just as his on-field exploits seemed to have him destined for success. At the same time his life behind closed doors was an absolute disaster, he was making a name for himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the most dynamic players in recent NCAA history.
"We're still working on him," Mathieu said of that 'other guy.' "Every day is a process, trying to get stronger and stronger. I'm going on five months [without drugs] right now. It's been a process, trying to embrace it. I reach out for help as much as I can."
From the football side of things, the 5-foot-9, 186-pound Mathieu makes himself available for the NFL at a very interesting time. With more and more teams playing in nick and dime coverage at least 50 percent of the time, slot defenders are essentially starters on most teams, and Mathieu has the basic skills to make an amazing impact in that role. For those NFL teams who can get past Mathieu's ... well, past, he does present in intriguing combination of short and deep pass coverage, run fill ability, dynamic return potential. He's spoken with most NFL teams about his future, and did so with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on Wednesday. The verdict? Ryan is a "cool guy." Mathieu said.
For now, though, it was just about being with his old friends again.
"It was great being back with my teammates one more time. That was the biggest thing today."
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