Nationals

Ex-LSU star Mathieu attends Senior Bowl practice

Ex-LSU star Mathieu attends Senior Bowl practice

FAIRHOPE, Ala. (AP) Former LSU star Tyrann ``Honey Badger'' Mathieu is at the Senior Bowl attempting to repair his image and convince NFL teams that he has changed his ways.

The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist was just a spectator Monday, watching ex-teammate Lavar Edwards and the rest of the Senior Bowl's South team practice. But Mathieu hopes to meet with interested NFL teams during his trip.

Mathieu knows he doesn't have room for more missteps off the field and said he'll understand if team officials react with skepticism.

``They have every right to do that,'' Mathieu said. ``I'm not really looking forward to people trusting me today or tomorrow. Trust takes time, especially when you've done a lot of things for people not to be able to trust you. It may take two years. It may take five years, it may take until I'm 30 years old for people to start trusting Tyrann again. But the truth is, I'm doing the right things and just looking forward to being a football player.''

Mathieu was dismissed from the LSU team last August for failing a drug test. He was arrested in late October along with three other former LSU players - including quarterback Jordan Jefferson - after police said they found marijuana at Mathieu's apartment.

He said his NFL ambitions haven't changed even if his days as the ``Honey Badger'' ended with his college career.

He has been training for the NFL combine in south Florida but was just in Arizona training with Patrick Peterson, a former LSU cornerback now with the Arizona Cardinals.

``I took a few days off from training just to come here and meet with a few coaches and just be back around football again,'' Mathieu said.

Mathieu, who didn't arrive with any meetings set up, said he knows his behavior will be scrutinized as much as his 40 time.

``This is my last shot,'' he said. ``You've got to learn when to do things and when not to do things, when to party and when not to party. Every day is football. That's the biggest thing I got out of it. I'm just ready to live a football life.''

He said his goals haven't changed even though his path to a football career has, and still feels he's a future Pro Bowler.

Mathieu, though, said the past few months have been ``really just getting a grip on myself, personally, spiritually and emotionally.''

He knows the kids hovering behind a fence calling out ``Honey Badger'' still think of him by that moniker that became a nationwide sensation.

``I definitely want to do it the right way this time,'' Mathieu said. ``I think in my career at LSU, the Honey Badger kind of just came to an abrupt end. Hopefully, I'm going to give these kids something to look forward to growing up.''

However he's known, Mathieu said he had to make changes in lifestyle, starting with the people around him.

Now, he has to convince NFL teams.

``Basically, I just had to take myself out of that situation that I was involved in and get away from all those kinds of people and just really starting hanging myself around positive people, people who are actually doing what I want to do in my life,'' Mathieu said. ``And that's being a professional football player. I think everything's going very well right now. I feel real good about myself. I just try to keep a smile on.''

He doesn't smile when talking about eventual national champion Alabama's winning touchdown against the Tigers in November, which essentially knocked LSU out of title contention. It came on a screen pass to T.J. Yeldon when freshman cornerback Jalen Mills blitzed.

``I would have given everything'' to be on the field, Mathieu said. ``That was a freshman on that blitz and I would have been a junior so I would have known that play was coming. I would have been able to do something.

``It hurts, but it's something that I've got to live with now.''

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Nationals leave Winter Meetings with new fight against complacency underway

Nationals leave Winter Meetings with new fight against complacency underway

SAN DIEGO -- Quiet finally settled over the downtown Hyatt in San Diego on Thursday morning. The baseball industry packed, then left, leaving behind every imaginable facet of the pro machine. Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke Wednesday and a report trying to explain fluctuations with the baseball was delivered. All 30 managers held media sessions across the three days. Recent graduates hunted starts to front office futures. Clubhouse attendants held a meeting of their brethren. Everyone was perpetually stuck in the slow-moving elevators.

In essence, the Nationals’ defense of their World Series title started in southern California while these events transpired around them. They made an enormous move by signing Stephen Strasburg. They continued to manage the third base market, watching warily as they tried to figure out how not to be left short after Anthony Rendon signed a long-term contract with Anaheim and the frenzy for Josh Donaldson began. The Nationals also still need bullpen help.

In addition, a new battle against complacency exists. What’s happening for the Nationals is an offseason unlike any other because they won, and its fresh dynamics include convincing someone full he is still hungry. Ways to do that? Subtle changed mixed with standard procedures. They hope.

Next season always comes calling, loaded with the same 162-game grind, even for those teams who were still pitching on Halloween. Recent champions -- in particular the Nationals -- deployed their starting pitchers differently in the postseason en route to a title. Patrick Corbin made three postseason starts and came out of the bullpen five times. An injection coupled with a chiropractic rescue enabled Max Scherzer’s Game 7 start. Stephen Strasburg threw more pitches than anyone in baseball. 

Boston eased its pitchers into the 2019 season and appeared to pay for it. Their starters rarely threw in spring training games after winning a championship. Three of them threw seven innings or fewer in games during the Grapefruit season. Scherzer threw 26 and 26 ⅔ innings, respectively, the last two spring trainings. So, Mike Rizzo expects standard programming in West Palm Beach, not additional rest.

“I just think that we remind them what we do this stuff for and the elation that we had I think is still going to be with us and for us to feel that way again, we know what it takes to get there,” Rizzo said. “It’s a long hard road and it’s a lot of work. It starts Day 1 spring training and ends the last game. That’s going to be our outlook. We’re going to prepare for spring training like we have every other year. We’re not going to be complacent because we played an extra month of baseball. We’re not going to make any adjustments for preparation of our pitchers.”

Davey Martinez made adjustments. He swung his coaching staff around, moving Bob Henley to first base, Chip Hale to third and Tim Bogar to bench coach. Why? In part to reboot the holdover staff before they begin working with the players.

“Complacency,” Martinez said. “Everybody talks about those World Series blues, and that’s one thing we don’t want. We don’t want to be complacent. There’s going to be a target on our back, so we’ve got to come out and be ready to play from day one. We want these guys to understand that. We’re not just going to sit around and say: ‘Well, we’ve got plenty of time.’ No, the time is from day one. We’re going to get ready for the season, and hopefully do it again.”

Martinez will work with the same premise at spring training: go 1-0. He can still ride other sayings -- like “win your day” -- but the large white flag which said “Conquer” in red letters and traveled with the team is probably due for retirement. “Stay in the fight” fell with the end of the regular season. “Fight finished” isn’t phrasing which can carry to a new season.

“The message is going to be clear: Hey, we're not going to sneak up on anybody this year, that's for sure,” Martinez said. “So we've got to be ready to go from day one. With that being said, I want them to understand, hey, we're going to do business like we've done in the past, and we're just going to try to go 1-0 every day. Why change something that works?”

Why change? That’s the question, and the answer for the defending champions seems to be they don’t want to. Get ready. Stay ready. Try to do it again as if it never happened.

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Chauncey Billups knows from experience that John Wall will have a dominant return from his Achilles injury

Chauncey Billups knows from experience that John Wall will have a dominant return from his Achilles injury

WASHINGTON -- Turns out there is a familiar refrain when you ask NBA players who recovered from torn Achilles injuries about the rehab process and its biggest challenges. Spurs forward Rudy Gay brought it up, and so did Clippers broadcaster and 17-year NBA veteran Chauncey Billups.

They say it is not just the process of coming back physically. There is a mental hurdle, a very specific one, they had to overcome, and they believe Wizards guard John Wall will have the same experience once he returns to NBA action.

"There's a mental component to it that's really necessary when you're coming back from something like that. You're going to be in that position in which you hurt it 50 to 60 to 70 times in one night. You have to get over that," Billups told NBC Sports Washington.

"You think about it. You think about it all the time. You have to just trust in the work you put in, you have to trust in the science and just know you can't continue to think about it because if you do, you're not going to play your game. It's easier said than done, it really is."

It makes sense. Most injuries in basketball are suffered while running, cutting or jumping. Though Wall technically tore his Achilles while falling in his house, the tendon is going to be tested over and over by every move he makes on the basketball court.

Billups said getting over that can take a long time. He suffered his Achilles tear in 2012 and was back playing in an NBA game 296 days later.

But it took much longer than that to truly get to 100 percent.

"One thing I noticed is that when I came back, I came back at [10 1/2] months. But it took me probably another 10 or 11 months to really feel like myself. I don't think that will happen with John [because] he's a lot younger and his body probably heals a lot quicker than mine did," Billups said.

Billups said his lateral movement and jumping ability were affected the most. Lateral movement is particularly important on defense, especially for a point guard who has to stay in front of some of the quickest athletes on the planet.

As for jumping ability, Wall may have an advantage as he tore his left Achilles and has always been a much better leaper off his right leg. It's why most of his dunks are thrown down using his left hand.

Given Wall was seven years younger than Billups when they suffered their injuries, Billups believes Wall is likely to get most, if not all, of his athleticism back. But he also sees a way Wall can change his game to remain effective even if he never regains his trademark speed.

"I think that John could be a very good post-up type of point guard [because] he's such a good passer and facilitator," Billups said.

"A point guard being down there and being able to pass out of the post, it's tough. Teams don't work on that. I think that's a weapon he can add, especially as he gets older. Naturally, he will slow down and his athleticism will diminish as he gets a lot older, but he can be just as effective if he can develop that," he added.

Just like Wall, Billups tore his Achilles in February. He was back playing in games by late November, so Wall has already taken longer than he did to return. The Wizards have even indicated Wall could miss all of this season due to the injury. And if he returned next year, he would end up taking about 20 months to recover.

Having been through the process himself, Billups can speak to how difficult that could end up being for Wall, to just sit out and wait patiently even if he at some point knows he can play.

"That's tough to do when you're a competitor," Billups said. "You miss the game that you love so much. It's my first love. You have an opportunity to feel like you're back after all the work that you put in, man. To feel like I can get out here and help my guys who are struggling? They're doubling Bradley Beal and they've got a young guy [in Rui Hachimura] showing some promise, it's tough to just kind of sit that out and wait and say 'when's the right time?'"

The Wizards appear intent on giving Wall extra time to heal and, it should be noted, they have a major financial investment in his future. This is the first season of his four-year, $170 million supermax contract. It might be worth punting on the first year if it ensures they get something out of the final three.

Whenever he does return, Billups has high hopes for the five-time All-Star.

"I have no doubt that John Wall is going to come back and be dominant," Billups said.

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