Many of college football's top senior's are gathered in Mobile to show off their skills for NFL scouts at the 2013 Senior Bowl, but one of the most talked-about players in Alabama this week isn't even playing in the game.
Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who went from Heisman finalist and potential top-five draft pick to kicked off LSU's team altogether before the 2012 season began, is in Mobile trying to convince NFL scouts that his checkered past is just that and he's ready to move on to the next chapter of his career.
It's hardly a surprise that Mathieu would like to put the past year behind him, as it was an unmitigated disaster.
After making a trip to New York in December of 2011 and playing in the BCS National Championship game, "The Honey Badger" entered the offseason as the face of the 2012 LSU football team, but before the Tigers ever took a snap that year, that had all fallen apart.
Mathieu was dismissed from the team in August for repeated violations of LSU's substance abuse policy, and at the time, head coach Les Miles both expressed regret that the university was forced to let Mathieu go and hope that Mathieu would be able to turn his life around, according to ESPN.
"I complied and agreed that it was right," Miles said. "We'll miss the guy. The football team's got to go on. We'll have to fill the void. I think it's an opportunity to redirect and I think he still has a bright future," Miles said. "He can still accomplish all the goals he set for himself. It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be doable."
However, any hope that Matheu had of resurrecting his collegiate career was effectively destroyed when he was arrested in October of 2012 and charged with possession of marijuana (per ESPN). Just like that, it appeared that another talented yet troubled player had flushed a promising future down the toilet.
At present, Mathieu is trying to salvage that future in Mobile. He claims to be clean after completing a rehab stint in Houston and has been living and working out in Florida with the father of former LSU teammate and current Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Now Mathieu is just hoping to impress upon NFL scouts in Mobile that he's a changed man, according to Dan Wolken of USA Today:
"I think people will be (skeptical), and they have every right to do that," he said. "I'm not (expecting) people trusting me. Trust takes time, especially when you have done a lot of things for people not to trust you. It may take two years, five years or until I'm 30 years old but the truth is I'm doing the right things and I'm looking forward to being a football player."
He's gotten at least a few teams to listen. According to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, Mathieu has already spoken with representatives of at least three NFL teams and Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post tweeted that the number of teams that have expressed some level of interest is actually much higher.
Source says Tyrann Mathieu met with the entire #Dolphins staff last night for an interview. Honey Badger has spent time w/ 15 teams already— Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) January 22, 2013
The motivation for that interest isn't hard to understand. Mathieu won the Bednarik Award as college football's top defender as a sophomore in 2011, racking up 76 tackles, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks and six forced fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Mathieu was also one of the most dangerous punt returners in the nation that year, averaging over 15 yards a return and taking a pair of punts back for scores.
However, despite those considerable talents, there are a couple of other red flags surrounding Mathieu besides his substance abuse issues.
For one, it's been over a year since Mathieu played in a game and there's no telling how badly such a long layoff may have affected his coverage skills.
Second, for all of his considerable skills, they are packed into a 5'9", 175-pound frame, and that's awfully small for an NFL cornerback.
That lack of size may leave Mathieu ideally suited to play in the slot in the NFL and there will certainly be a whole boatload of questions that Tyrann Mathieu will have to face between now and April's NFL draft.
With that said, though, Janoris Jenkins of the St. Louis Rams was a similarly talented cornerback with a similarly troubled past, who faced those same questions a year ago. The St. Louis Rams thought enough of his answers to roll the dice on Jenkins in the second round, and a strong rookie season by Jenkins should serve as a source of hope for both Mathieu and NFL teams interested in him.
Granted, the situations aren't identical and Mathieu all but certainly won't go that early in the draft, but if he can show that his past is behind him, then in a league where good cornerbacks are worth their weight in gold, someone is undoubtedly going to take a chance on him.
What Mathieu does with that opportunity is up to him.