"Voluntary" became "mandatory" for Tyrann Mathieu the moment the three-time All-Pro safety became a first-year New Orleans Saints safety. So the sight of the nine-year veteran at the first three OTAs this week was as much a pleasant surprise (the work is voluntary for veterans) as it was a necessity.
"When he signed, that was the first thing – it was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to be there,' " Coach Dennis Allen said of Mathieu. "So that was really cool to see. I think he understands that it's a new system, a new place."
New system, new place, but the same Mathieu in terms of a thirst for learning, setting a tone and making sure he knows the ins and outs of the job well enough to find his personal flow within the system.
"Just being around teammates, being around the coaches, getting in the playbook," Mathieu said. "I'm a player that, once I understand the playbook and the scheme, I can kind of let my anticipation, my personality show. I think it was just a big positive for me to be here, get to know my teammates, get to know the coaches and how everybody likes to roll."
"I'm seeing a guy that comes to work every day as a pro, and that's what I like about him," Allen said. "That's what I thought coming in, that's what he's shown me in the first three days.
"It's hard to come in and say a guy's a leader for you when he's been here for three days. I think he's got those qualities, and really, I can see with the way that he comes and does his job, that if people follow that example, I think that's going to benefit us."
New Orleans definitely expects to benefit on the field.
Arguably the most productive three-season stretch of his career has been the most recent three, when he had half of his 26 career interceptions, two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns and twice was named first-team All-Pro.
It's the kind of production that Mathieu hopes to carry over to New Orleans.
"It's all about ball production," he said. "A lot of times when I'm watching the tape, it's a lot of plays out there that you can make. So it's all about just getting the grasp of the defense, understanding how your coach wants you to see it and play it. And then from there, just kind of letting your personality show and your instincts take over."
The personality the Saints are seeing so far includes one that wouldn't allow Mathieu to skip voluntary work. Even though the veteran assuredly could study and get up to speed without being physically present, the choice was easy for him.
"I think this time in the season, obviously a lot of veterans would rather go without it, but I think in some situations it can be a real, good positive and you can get a lot of good things from it," he said.