NT Ta'amu close to return without fanfare

It's hard to imagine Alameda Ta'amu getting lost in a crowd, but the Arizona Cardinals' back-up nose tackle has been flying under the radar since training camp began.

All thanks to a man almost half his size.

Any time safety Tyrann Mathieu talked, he drew a gaggle of reporters. Any time he took a step closer to returning from an ACL and LCL injury, it was worthy of a story. They went on the Cards' preseason physically unable to perform list together on July 23 and were taken off simultaneously Tuesday. Through it all, Ta'amu just eased into the background while Mathieu was thrust into the spotlight. And with defensive tackle Darnell Dockett out for the season with a torn ACL, Ta'amu's return may end up being more important to the Cardinals' defense than Mathieu's.

Ta'amu, who tore his ACL in Week 17 last season, usually sits quietly on a stool at his corner locker in the Cards' locker room deep inside University of Phoenix Stadium playing his eclectic arrangement of music. The attention passes him by but he's on the verge of his own comeback.

Ta'amu has his mind set on playing in Arizona's season opener on Sept. 8, a goal that came closer to reality with the news that he can return to practice Wednesday. On Monday morning, Ta'amu said he was supposed to go through a teset with with trainers to help determine if he'd return week or next. The resuls obviously went well.

"The first game of the season is something that I'd really like to play in," Ta'amu said. "'Monday Night Football,' knee's feeling good. Trainer's saying I can do it and I trust him."

Ta'amu feels like his knee is strong enough to do everything. He can tell he's close to a return. Last week, Ta'amu hit tackling dummies for the first time since December. He could tell it's been eight months since he last played. The rust had built up.

"The more I kept hitting it I guess I was getting back into football mode with my body," he said.

But Ta'amu needs to feel comfortable enough with his knee to be sure he can lean -- and be leaned on -- by 700 pounds of offensive linemen when he gets double teamed.

Ta'amu said he's improved leaps and bounds from where he was four months ago, but he's more concerned about the physical side of his return more than the mental hurdles that can accompany a comeback. How his ability to penetrate will be affected has weighed on him. Last season, he finished with 13 tackles in 14 games. It'll be on his mind until he can take the field.

"The biggest issue is just trusting mindset, what I feel like I can do and can't do," he said.

"There's a lot to work on coming back."