The storyline is all too common: Star player sees departure of trusty head coach; there’s a changing of the guard; star player loses his former privileges; star player gets disgruntled; star player enters a feud with new head coach.
Arizona Cardinals superstar wide receiver, the ever-classy Larry Fitzgerald, saw the beginnings of such a plot this year with the departure of Ken Whisenhunt and arrival of new head coach Bruce Arians.
“He thought I was nuts,” Arians told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug and Wolf Thursday, describing the moment he asked Fitzgerald to learn the slot receiver position.
When Arians, last season’s NFL Coach of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts, arrived in Glendale, he came with the intent of teaching the almost-30-year-old Fitzgerald all of the receiver positions on the field.
“It was like trying to get kids to eat things that they don’t like because they’ve never tasted them,” Arians recalled.
Fitzgerald’s nine-year NFL career had been made on the wide ends of the field, where he has accrued more than 10,000 receiving yards and 77 touchdowns since breaking into the league in 2004-05.
“He was in a comfort zone,” explained Arians. “He knew that position. He knew everything about that position.”
But Arians had his reasons for moving Fitzgerald to other parts of the field, and he had confidence that the veteran would adjust.
“Once he got in there,” Arians continued, “it was like, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ And once the ball keeps coming to you, you really like it.”
The purpose of moving one of the most talented receivers of the last decade inside? Arians wanted to create more mismatches for his best weapon.
“When you play the lone receiver, the X receiver, people can take you out of the game,” the first-year coach said. “They can double cover you in a number of different ways.
“Once they don’t know where you’re going to be, whether you’re at Z, X, in the slot, it’s very hard to double somebody.”
The occasional switch, Arians also believes, will create opportunities for the Cardinals’ other receivers — Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and company.
Explaining such, Arians furthered his point.
“And when they do try to double you, it’s very obvious to the quarterback that the other guys are singled.”
Finally, the always-down-to-earth Arians ended with a note on the hard truth of Fitzgerald’s age. He’ll begin the season at 30 years old and will soon lose the edge in speed and strength he once had.
Simply put: “A wide receiver after 30 needs to learn how to play in the slot.”