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Tyrann Mathieu Is Gone From LSU, And Now Here's What's Happening

Tyrann Mathieu, the dynamic Louisiana State defensive back and a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, was dismissed from the football team Friday for violating an unspecified athletic department rule.

“We have a simple policy here of behavior, and consequences are pretty spelled out and defined,” L.S.U. Coach Les Miles said Friday at a hastily organized news conference. “We did what we could do, but Tyrann Mathieu is no longer on our team. He violated team policies.”

Miles declined to specify which rule, saying that it was a “fundamental behavior” violation and that he agreed with the decision. At one point, he exhaled, then said: “We extended ourselves to the full length of the policy. And here we go.”

Generally lost amid Mathieu’s 2011 season, in which he was named an all-American, was his suspension for L.S.U.’s midseason game against Auburn, reportedly for violating L.S.U.’s drug policies. Nonetheless, he electrified college football fans with his spectacular play, which included six forced fumbles, five fumbles recovered and four touchdowns scored — two on fumble recoveries, two on punt returns.

His personality and playmaking turned Mathieu — 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds — into a collegiate star who personified L.S.U.’s stingy defense in the team’s run to the Bowl Championship Series title game, which it lost to Alabama.

Mathieu, nicknamed Honey Badger, also gained renown as a punt returner, helping him in the Heisman race, which is rarely hospitable to defensive players. He looked like a blur during a 92-yard return against Arkansas, conjuring images of Charles Woodson — the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman — as he deftly avoided tacklers. Mathieu finished fifth in the voting, which was won by Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

About Mathieu’s one-game suspension last season, Miles said Friday, “We extended ourselves personally and professionally to him,” but, apparently, to no avail.

“For Ty, I think it’s an opportunity for him to redirect,” Miles said, then added: “I think that he can really accomplish all the goals he set for himself. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be doable.”

Miles said he expected Mathieu to transfer to a Football Championship Subdivision college, where he would be immediately eligible to play. Mathieu, who is entering his junior season, could still hold the N.F.L.’s attention, and he will be eligible for the draft after this season.

T. J. McDonald, Southern California’s all-American safety, said Mathieu’s situation should warn younger players. “Follow the rules, do all the stuff that you’re supposed to do, and make the most out of your ability,” McDonald said.

L.S.U., ranked No. 1 in USA Today’s preseason coaches poll, has “similar built, similar cut guys,” Miles said — like cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid — who will be challenged to follow Mathieu’s lead on the field.

“I think he gave us a lot of examples that we can learn from,” Miles said. “I think that he’s a quality, quality guy, who had behavior issues. And that’s it. So I think that certainly the overview of his time with us is positive.”

There is some good news for Tyrann Mathieu. HIs inclusion in Heisman watch lists and other award prospects were not concocted or imaginary, and his ceiling as a football player sits several stories above even the average SEC defender. His quickfire ballhawking instincts remain unparalleled. Instincts stay with you regardless of the jersey you wear, and for that Mathieu should take some consolation today.

The worst loss for Tyrann Mathieu in violating team policy and exhausting his chances with the LSU coaching staff? Losing the year of development and reps he will now have to forfeit on his roundabout way to the NFL or another school. Mathieu remains a collection of walking superlatives in terms of talent, but where he needs improvement is in the technical aspects of his game, particularly in coverage.

A year of additional reps and work with the LSU defensive coaching staff may have added some serious technical polish to his game, and thus given him a nicer signing bonus when/if he eventually makes it to the league. That is a loss, and one he should regret.

As far as the impact to LSU's 2012 season goes, the worst part will be the gap between Mathieu's punt return contributions and what LSU will have as a replacement. Odell Beckham is a great athlete, but barring some miracles from the strength and conditioning staff, he will not be the returner Mathieu is, and neither will anyone currently on the roster. Like Greg Reid at FSU, another troubled DB recently booted from his team, he leaves his biggest dent in what he gave LSU in terms of field position.

Jalen Collins, who redshirted last year, will likely replace Mathieu on the depth chart. He likely does not have Mathieu's golden turnover hands, but he may end up being a better cover corner than Mathieu ever was. He will not be this immediately, however, and that is also an immediate and apparent loss.

Do remember this: LSU had to replace a first-round pick in 2011 in losing Patrick Peterson to the NFL Draft, too. That replacement was preseason Heisman candidate and recent free agent Tyrann Mathieu. Losing him now is not good, but it is anything but the end of the world for a team still embarrassingly loaded with sprint-happy talent.