In nine NFL seasons, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has made seven Pro Bowl appearances, recorded 1,000 yards or more six times and owns the all-time record for receiving yards in a single postseason.
And, he’s done it all at one position.
That’s all changed for the All-Pro wideout this offseason, as new head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin have implemented a system that has Fitzgerald roaming from the X, Y and Z positions.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult,” said Fitzgerald, who is learning a new offense for the first time since 2007. “I think as a human being you’re a bit of a creature of habit. I’ve played the same position since I was in junior high school. I’ve never had to really move around and you know I’ve gotten good at it. So I think we all resist change to a certain degree, especially if you’ve had a little bit of success. But as I’ve gone through the offseason workouts, I’ve definitely become more receptive of it.
“Coach Arians has a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of schemes defensively that we’re going to be thrown at. He tells me there are going to be a lot more opportunities to make plays inside, it’s going to give my teammates Andre Roberts, Michael [Floyd], Rob Housler and guys like that better matchups, as well. It’s not all about me, it’s about making this team go. We know that if this team is going, it’s because the offense is putting points on the board.”
While the motive behind moving Fitzgerald around is partially to free up his teammates, Arians noted that the goal ultimately is to get the former No. 3 overall pick back to the production level he’s accustomed to being at.
During the Cardinals’ 5-11 campaign in 2012, Fitzgerald caught a career-low four touchdowns and fell below the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2006.
“It’s a matter of do you want 100 balls,” Arians said. “If you want 100 balls, move around. If they know where you’re at, it’s easy to take you out of the game.”
Adding an element of versatility to a Pro Bowl wide receiver’s game is nothing new for Arians. As the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator in 2012, Arians
forced 13-year veteran Reggie Wayne to move around the field and the results were instantaneous. Wayne caught 106 passes for 1,355 yards to go along with five touchdowns.
Although the Cardinals have only gone through OTAs and minicamp, Arians said he’s pleased with the progress Fitzgerald has already made despite the transition.
“Reggie [Wayne] bought in right away last year,” said Arians. “Fitz is buying in now. It’s hard for a veteran of their stature, because you don’t want to make mistakes and you get embarrassed.
“We’ve got to put all of that behind us and learn another position, or multiple positions so people can’t just say, ‘Hey, he’s lining up at the weak-side position, and we’re going to double him.’ We can’t allow that to happen.”