When Kurt Warner took over as the Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback in 2005, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was entering his second season in the NFL.
Over the next four seasons, the pair combined for hundreds of receptions, thousands of yards and more than 39 touchdowns, en route to two NFC West division titles, in 2008 and 2009, and a Super Bowl appearance.
Since Warner’s retirement, Fitzgerald has gone on record to say how much he misses his old quarterback. And the reason for such is obvious — the Cardinals have had a revolving door under center since Warner’s departure.
On Thursday, following the Cardinals 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Warner, who was an analyst on the NFL Network live set at University of Phoenix Stadium, briefly questioned the usage of his old teammate.
Then, on Friday, while a guest with The Dan Bickley Show with Vince Marotta, Warner opined further.
“You have a guy like Larry Fitzgerald and you want to get him the ball and you want to find ways to target him more often because he’s so dynamic,” he explained, “but I think one of the problems is they’re putting him inside so much that he loses some of what makes him great and what makes him great is getting in those one-on-one situations on the edge, using that big body, really stretching the field and getting those big chunks.
“A lot of times he’s getting stuck in the underneath part of the mix.”
When first-year Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians arrived in Glendale, he made it clear that he intended to move Fitzgerald inside. And, in response, Fitzgerald ‘thought (he) was nuts.’
“He was in a comfort zone,” Arians explained of Fitzgerald’s exclusive presence on the edge, when talking about the move inside back in August.
So now, more than ever before in his career, the Cardinals’ best offensive weapon — the best wide receiver in franchise history — has been sanctioned to the slot.
“I think (he’s) uncomfortable on the inside,” Warner explained Friday.
“When I played with him, we would try to move him inside and motion him inside, and I could just tell, he was always uncomfortable with that because he hadn’t done it enough. He didn’t really know what he was seeing — it’s a little bit faster on the inside.
“And I think when that happens, it causes you to be a little more cautious with what you’re doing because you’re thinking too much as opposed to playing.”
Such a lack of comfort, and the inability to showcase his most effective skills, has led to a down year for Fitzgerald, who has just 32 receptions for 422 yards and four touchdowns through the season’s first seven games.
To Warner, who had some of the best moments of his career when playing catch with Fitzgerald, the explanation is easy.
“And I think that’s some of what we’re seeing, especially when he’s in the slot,” Warner said. “It’s him not using what we think of as his ability and his speed and really getting up the field because he’s trying to think about all of the things on the inside and the things that he’s reading.
“And that’s why when we see him on the outside he still has the propensity to make those big plays and get by people.”