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    Cardinals’ Bruce Arians recaps Tuesday’s practice

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    Cardinals report: Crisper practice Tuesday

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    Shot Clock: Arians changes tone with Cardinals

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    Breaking down an intense Cards practice

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    Tramon Williams

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    Cornerback drama continues for Cardinals

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    Greg Moore and Bob McManaman break down the Red-White practice

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    Cardinals Red-White practice preview

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    Somers, McManaman on Gruden possibility, CB battle

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    Kent Somers and Bob McManaman break down Cardinals practice

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    Arians at Cards Camp Friday

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    Wrapping up the day at Cardinals Camp- July 27 edition

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    Shot Clock: Early hiccups for Cardinals

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    Take away from Cardinals Camp July 24

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    azcentral sports’ Bob McManaman wraps up the action at Cards camp

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    azcentral sports Scott Bordow and Bob McManaman wrap-up Day 2 at Arizona Cardinals training cam

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    Moore, McManaman wrap up opening day at Cardinals training camp

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    azcentral sports’ Kent Somers and Bob McManaman reporting day at Arizona Cardinals training camp

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    David Johnson’s work load; D-Backs’ head games

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    Shot Clock: Cards kick off fan-friendly camp

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    Somers sits down with Cardinals rookie Budda Baker

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    Kent Somers: Impressions from Cardinals minicamp

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    Kent Somers recaps Cardinals minicamp Wednesday

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    Kent Somers recaps Cardinals practice

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    Shot Clock: Blaine Gabbert a keeper for Cardinals?

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    Kent Somers, Bob McManaman talk another week of Arizona Cardinals OTAs

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    Bob McManaman after Cardinals practice Tuesday, May 30

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    Kent and Bob talk new NFL rules and wide out depth

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    Report card on Cardinals QB Blaine Gabbert

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    Watch out for Dodgers; Cards CBs apply for job

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    What Deone Bucannon’s injury means for Cardinals

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    David Johnson No. 1 on NFL Players Association list

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    No throws for Cards QB, cheap shot in NBA?

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    Kaepernick blackballed? Greinke now trade bait?

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    Kent Somers talks Cardinals rookies

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    Kent Somers talks Daryl Washington departure

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    Cardinals release linebacker Daryl Washington: Somers and Bickley discuss

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    Shot Clock: Gabbert a terrible fit for Cards

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    Somers sits down with Arians on Cardinals’ offseason

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    Bruce Arians talks about his annual fundraisers

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    Jim Hart to be inducted into Cardinals Ring of Honor

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    Shot Clock: Cards picks make instant impact?

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    Shot Clock: Tap brakes on Haason Reddick pick?

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    Sights and sounds from Cardinals draft party

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    Kent Somers and Bob McManaman talk Cardinals draft of Haason Reddick

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    Keim, Arians striking gold in draft’s third round

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    Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones talk about Celebrity Softball Game

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    Kent Somers talks with Cardinals DT Frostee Rucker

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    Cardinals DT Frostee Rucker on expectations, adding Karlos Dansby

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    Top 3 games in Cardinals schedule

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    Cards playing dangerous game with RB Johnson?

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    Larry Fitzgerald holding 7th annual charity softball tournament

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    Larry Fitzgerald 1-on-1 with Kent Somers

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    NFL meetings in Phoenix: On Bruce Arians, new rules, the draft

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    NFC coaches take questions at NFL owners meeting

Vacations are a curse for the highly ambitious. But in the summer of 2017, Tyrann Mathieu took a deep breath.

He crossed the ocean for the first time. He went to Greece with his girlfriend. He attended matches at Wimbledon. Along his journey, he kept hearing the same question:

Are you the Honey Badger?

“Nobody knows me by my real name,” he said.

Mathieu and his moniker remain inseparable, feeding his appeal and capturing his indomitable persona. But at age 25, he’s learned another lesson. Great stories don’t mean much without a great player attached. And back home, the Cardinals safety isn’t feeling the same kind of love.

Not like he once did.

“In the NFL, it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ ” Mathieu said. “And that’s fair. But the moral of my life story is to have all these challenges, to face all kinds of adversity and people who are always counting me out. I always seem to find a way.”

LISTEN: Cardinals Insiders Podcast: Is Mathieu back to being the Honey Badger?

Mathieu has always been a force of nature, a testament to the human spirit. He stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 174 pounds, but is capable of lifting an entire defense with courage and passion. He is an inspiration to addicts, underdogs, teammates and those who won’t be defined by physical limitations.

He is also tormented by what he can not control, finishing three of his first four NFL seasons on injured reserve.

“If I stay healthy, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can be the most dominant defensive player in the league,” Mathieu said.

That’s not hyperbole. And that’s what makes Mathieu’s story so difficult.

In sports, many celestial careers have been sabotaged by misfortune. Bo Jackson was felled by a hip injury, derailing the greatest athlete in American history. Concussions are threatening the transcendent talents of NHL star Sidney Crosby. Bill Walton played in only 47 games in the five years following his MVP season in Portland. That’s the risk of being a professional athlete.

Mathieu is different. He’s the rare athlete who is being punished for what makes him special on a football field. His fearless nature and love of battle have made him what he is today, an undersized impact player who can’t stay healthy.  And while nothing is fair in the NFL, it represents a cruel twist of fate for a player who can slay personal demons and dominate a game inhabited by giants.

The injury struggles have changed Mathieu. He came to training camp without bold proclamations or highly publicized goals. He knows he can’t lead from the trainer’s room, and his only mantra is to “quiet the noise.”

“I’m trying to focus in and play at my own pace,” Mathieu said. “I want to fly under the radar the entire camp. I want to live up to my own expectations. I want to run my own race. I believe in myself, even though a lot of people are doubting me. That’s fine. I prefer it that way.

“People are starting to bail on me. Listen, I don’t take it personally. That’s just the way of the world. As long as I believe in myself, nothing else matters. And if I didn’t believe in myself, that would be a tragedy.”

Fortunately, Mathieu is much better when he’s uncomfortable, when he has to prove himself all over again. He was the only player who earned the praise of head coach Bruce Arians during a sluggish practice on Monday, and seems to be rounding into the form that once made him an MVP candidate on defense.

He’s also at a professional crossroads. The Cardinals build a safety net into his lucrative $62.5 million extension, where his contract was back-loaded in case Mathieu can’t stay healthy.

According to reports, his $5.75 million salary next season becomes guaranteed on the first day of the 2018 league year. A roster bonus of $5 million is due two days later. He also has a $10.75 million salary in 2019, of which $8 million becomes guaranteed on the first day of the 2019 calendar.

In other words, Mathieu will have to do something he’s rarely done to secure a future in Arizona and see the end of that contract: Stay healthy.

“I look at this as another challenge,” Mathieu said. “The contract issue, a lot of people are talking about that. I don’t really care about that. I’m just trying to play my game. I’m healthy and I’m confident. I’m reacting and not thinking, which is hard to do when you’re not healthy.

“At the end of the day, it isn’t about X’s and O’s. It’s about, ‘Can you tackle? Can you cover? Can you be counted on?’ The game won’t change and neither will I. It’s all about putting my passion out there on the field, tackling and covering, leading by example.”

The rare summer vacation helped clear his head. During his time abroad, Mathieu served as a goodwill ambassador for the Cardinals’ upcoming game in London. He coached a team of flag football players between the ages of 8-12. According to Neil Reynolds, a football analyst for Sky Sports, Mathieu stayed long after a fan forum had ended, signing autographs and taking pictures with British Cardinals fans.

He also witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and let’s hope the same doesn’t happen with his starring role in Arizona. After all, Mathieu is the team’s bonfire, their spiritual leader on defense. It’s about time he catches a break.

RELATED: Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden pass-rushing toward stardom

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RELATED: Tyrann Mathieu knows pressure is on

Reach Bickley at [email protected] or 602-444-8253. Follow him on twitter.com/dan.bickley. Listen to “Bickley and Marotta” weekdays from 12-2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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