For Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the future can wait

Jun 13, 2018, 3:56 PM
Arizona Cardinals ' Larry Fitzgerald (11) makes a catch during practice at the NFL football team's ...
Arizona Cardinals ' Larry Fitzgerald (11) makes a catch during practice at the NFL football team's training camp Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Larry Fitzgerald was asked Wednesday if he has thought about playing beyond this season. June 13 isn’t the best time for that question, so Fitzgerald was understandably reluctant to broach the topic.

“I’m just trying to get to February in one piece,” he said after the Cardinals’ penultimate minicamp practice. “[Former strength and conditioning coach] John Lott used to say it best: ‘I don’t buy green bananas. I don’t have time to watch them ripen.’ I’ve got to get it now.”

While coach Steve Wilks is calling Fitzgerald his No. 1 receiver, and his teammates are referring to him in reverential terms, Fitzgerald insists he is just trying to make the team like everybody else.

“When I say that, I’m not saying it jokingly,” he said. “That’s the kind of mentality you have to have. These [young receivers], they’re not bringing them in here for their own health. They’re bringing them in here to give them an opportunity to take your job and that’s not lost on me, ever. I’m fighting and competing just like everybody else is. That’s the mentality I had when I first walked in it and when they tell me to leave, that will still be my mentality when I walk out the door. That’s just how I’m wired.”

At some point, someone will take Fitzgerald’s job, but he has caught 325 passes the past three seasons combined, topping 100 in each of those years for the three highest catch totals of his career. He has also topped 1,000 yards in each of those seasons, catching 21 touchdowns during that span.

Wilks sees no need to fix what isn’t broken.

“If it’s effective and he’s getting catches and we’re winning football games, that’s great,” Wilks said. “You’d like to spread the ball around to try and have a little bit of versatility and balance, but the guys who are the playmakers, we’re going to get the ball in their hands. He’s one of those guys.”

The problem for the Cardinals has been finding other playmakers in the passing game. Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts didn’t pan out and John Brown couldn’t stay healthy. Fitzgerald, 34, had 76 more catches than the next closest teammate last season, and 27 more than the next closest the season before.

Running back David Johnson should add a major element to the passing game, assuming he’s healthy and holding a new contract, but the Cardinals are still waiting to see which, if any of their current receivers (Brice Butler, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, JJ Nelson and Cobi Hamilton) will emerge to complement Fitzgerald.

“I think we’ve got a unit that’s capable of playing,” Fitzgerald said. “Chad has had a phenomenal camp thus far, JJ has made some plays, obviously, Kirk has made some plays and Brice and Cobi. We’ve got a lot of guys.

“Obviously, we haven’t put the pads on and the competition level is just against your teammates so we’ve got a lot to see, but from what I’ve seen on the practice field, it’s been really competitive and we’ve got a lot of guys that can play.”

Fitzgerald said he has spent much of the offseason workouts trying to learn the tendencies of quarterback Sam Bradford, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and receivers coach Kevin Garver.

“Sam is good at communicating and he tells you exactly what he’s looking for,” Fitzgerald said. “Today before practice, we had a look yesterday where he didn’t quite like the way I did something and he told me, ‘Fitz I would prefer if you did it like that.’ Today, we ran it and it looked a lot better on tape.”

With 92 more catches, Fitzgerald (1,234) can pass Tony Gonzalez (1,325) for second place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list behind Jerry Rice. With 390 more yards, he will pass Terrell Owens for second place in receiving yards, also behind Rice.

“Records, that’s always something you don’t like to talk about,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s never really in the framework of the team. If it comes, it comers. If it doesn’t, I’ll be like I always am, I take it all in stride. You don’t play 15 years for personal records. You’re playing for something much bigger.”

If the receptions record doesn’t come this year, Fitzgerald could always play a 16th season.

“I would love to have him back next year, maybe the year after that,” Wilks said. “He’s the No. 1 receiver. We’ve got to do creative things to try to get him the ball in space. He’s pretty versatile, in the slot as well as being able to go outside. He’s going to be a major part of what we’re trying to do.”

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For Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the future can wait