By Jim Trotter
July 16, 2009

This is supposed to be a quiet time in the NFL, with players and coaches enjoying the final two weeks of vacation before the start of training camp. Yet the noise coming out of Minneapolis cannot be ignored.

A PhD course for wide receivers is taking place inside the newly constructed football stadium at the University of Minnesota, where last week's instructor was Jerry Rice, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer who holds every major receiving record, and this week's professor is Cris Carter, whose 130 touchdown catches rank fourth in league history.

The sessions are the brainchild of Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald, a Minnesota native who's working to have his name mentioned in the same sentence with the greats of the game when he's done playing. Instead of spending the offseason reflecting on his record-breaking performance for the Cardinals in last season's playoffs, Fitzgerald has spent the past two months draining his cell-phone battery to bring talented receivers and cornerbacks for group workouts.

Among the wideouts who have made the trip are Denver's Brandon Marshall, Buffalo's Lee Evans, Green Bay's Greg Jennings, Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton, Minnesota's Sidney Rice and Cleveland rookie Brian Robiskie. Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Malcolm Jenkins have also attended, as have tight ends Matt Spaeth and Dominique Byrd and linebacker James Laurinaitis. Dallas QB Tony Romo is a maybe for next week.

"Larry hit me up a couple of days ago and was like, 'Hey, let's get back to old times,' " says Hall, who trained with Fitzgerald in Florida in 2005, when each earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. "I was like, hell yeah. It's good to have players out here who can definitely make you work and get you better. That's why when he ran down the list of some of the guys that were coming, I was like, I'm there."

Fitzgerald booked hotel rooms for each of them and set up a chow line at his lakefront home in Eden Prairie, where some guys pass the down time by jet skiing or playing in pick-up basketball games. Despite the fun, at no time does anyone lose sight of the fact that he is there to improve his football skills.

Rice and Carter can be brutally honest, such as when Carter tells Byrd, the Arizona tight end with an admitted reputation for being lazy: "You're a wide receiver in a fat man's body."

Layered beneath the jokes are information nuggets. Rice and Carter aren't just telling them how to do something, but why they're doing it. The unspoken truth is that ignorance is as deadly as speed.

Carter is big on technique, adding: "Everyone at this level has athletic talent. You need more than that to make it."

When Evans glanced at the players assembled, he shook his head. It's one thing to get guys to train in Miami during their free time, but Minneapolis? The gathering was a testament to Fitzgerald's powers of persuasion and the players' desire to get better.

"It's an opportunity for me to get a chance to come out here and see some of the things that they do, to work with Cris Carter a little bit and see how he sees things, just be around the guys," says Evans. "I couldn't make it last week when Jerry was here, but I definitely wanted to come up and see what Cris had to say. It's a good deal anytime you can hear something different and try to diversify your game a little bit.

"The way Cris teaches us to run a route, I never heard it put that way. What he was teaching wasn't new. It's just the way he said it that you could relate to. Like they always say, there's more than one way to skin a cat. You've got to find what works for you. It may or may not help you, but it worked for him and you see what kind of career he had."

The mornings are basically on-field chalkboard sessions. Ideas are shared and compared. But let there be no doubt, the workouts are as demanding physically as they are enlightening mentally. Different days are devoted to different things, be it improving speed, agility, strength, technique. One of the mornings concluded with the players running 16 110-yard sprints, with limited rest in between. It was enough to make an onlooker feel like he was going to lose his breakfast.

"Complacency is a terrible thing to have in our business," says Fitzgerald. "Todd Haley talked to me about that our first year together [in Arizona]. It's kind of the worst thing you can ever have in sports -- complacency in losing, complacency in winning. You must never forget the hard work that it takes to be successful out there."

That's the kind of talk that could have the Cardinals making noise in the playoffs again this season.

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