In 3rd season with Arians, Fitzgerald off to fast start
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) When Bruce Arians became Arizona's coach in 2013, Larry Fitzgerald learned he would be changing positions.
No more wideout, where Fitzgerald had made one spectacular catch after another downfield en route to seven Pro Bowl appearances in his nine NFL seasons.
Fitzgerald became the receiver in the slot, where things can get rough and blocking is a must.
A tough sell at first, Fitzgerald is thriving there now, experiencing a career renaissance a month past his 32nd birthday. In two games, the player everyone around here calls ''Fitz'' has 14 catches for 199 yards and three scores.
''I feel like I've been comfortable for a while,'' Fitzgerald said. ''I just wanted to get that trust level with Carson (Palmer) and try to establish a trust with coach Arians. He's somebody that you have to earn his trust. I worked hard every day to make sure I'm doing everything he asks me to do so, so on Sundays, if he has to call my number, I'm ready for the job.''
Shortly after Arians was hired, Fitzgerald called friends Hines Ward and Reggie Wayne, who told him their careers were prolonged when Arians moved them inside. They assured him Arians would get him the ball.
''Those two guys were able to have a lot of success in coach Arians' offense,'' he said. ''They played at a very, very high level when they were with him. I just wanted to understand exactly what my role is going to be just so I could speed up the learning curve a little bit.''
In Sunday's 48-23 rout of the Bears in Chicago, Fitzgerald had eight catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns. It was his first three-TD game of the regular season and one more touchdown than his total for all of last season.
''This is not a starter kit offense when you can plug someone in and it's easy,'' Palmer said. ''We started getting things going in year two, he and I, as far as our rhythm and comfort level with him knowing what he's doing and me knowing what I'm doing, then being on the same page when things go awry. I think we are right where we need to be and we still have a ton of room for growth and improvement.''
In Fitzgerald's last seven games with Palmer, he has 56 catches for 660 yards and five touchdowns.
Arizona's running game is better, too, topping 100 yards in the season-opening win over New Orleans and against the Bears. Arians credits the ground game improvement for the Cardinals' seven touchdowns in seven red zone appearances.
Palmer calls Fitzgerald the best blocking wide receiver in the game.
''I would take him over a lot of tight ends in the blocking game,'' Palmer said, ''and it's nothing but will and want-to.''
Fitzgerald as a blocker was far from anyone's thoughts when the Cardinals made him the No. 3 overall pick out of Pitt in 2004.
''It wasn't something that was really high on my priority list when I was younger,'' he said. ''But here, for us to be able to have great team success, it requires wide receivers to do some blocking. For us to be able to have the success that I know we're capable of, guys have to do some things that maybe they weren't good at before.''
Fitzgerald said the receivers work on blocking in every practice.
''Larry's bought in 100 percent,'' offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said, ''and it's helped us a whole lot. With the rest of receivers seeing him block, they buy into it and they block as well.''
And boy can he still catch.
On Sunday, Fitzgerald became the 10th player in NFL history with 12,000 yards receiving and 90 touchdowns. His 92 TDs rank 11th on the all-time receiving list.
His career numbers would have been much better had there been better quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Twelve QBs have thrown him touchdown passes in his 11 seasons. There were some rough years between Kurt Warner's retirement and Palmer's arrival.
But Fitzgerald stuck it out and could be one of the rare NFL players to play his entire career with one team. Many thought dissatisfaction with his new role might lead him to look elsewhere, but he signed a two-year contract for $22 million, all guaranteed, before this season.
He loves Arizona and cherishes the memory of that 2008 Super Bowl run. He looks around him and sees the makings of another one.
''Honestly,'' Fitzgerald said, ''it's a privilege to still be able to play.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL