Much of the talk about the Arizona Cardinals this offseason has centered around the notion of improvement. A vastly revamped roster on both sides of the ball has cautious optimism growing. Yet, the concession that the franchise has not proved anything on the field looms large.
On Friday, star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald echoed many of the same sentiments that have been expressed ad nauseam by teammates to reporters.
"We're a solid football team," he said. "We have some great, talented players individually, but you're only as good as the collective team is. We have to get on the practice field, we have to work out the kinks, we have to get new guys acclimated to what we're doing. I think everybody's anxious to get back to work, get on the field and see exactly what we have. Just get to work and bonding as a unit that we need to be because it's going to be difficult. It's going to be very difficult. Limited practice time and all the new guys that we have on the team, but it's a problem that all 32 teams are going to be facing.
"The better we're able to gel with whatever that means: testing; the quarantine; the separation; whatever the landscape looks like, the fastest team that's able to adapt to be able to make that their new norm will come out on top. I hope that we're able to do that."
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, none of the NFL organizations have been able to get a proper idea of where they stand. There have been no in-person sessions between coaches and players. Everything has been conducted via a virtual setting, which can only reveal so much.
As for when players do return when it is safe to do so, expectations are that there will be a staunch acclimation process to get back into football shape. Players have had the opportunity to train on their own and the first in-person workouts will reveal who utilized their time most effectively.
"It's going to be interesting," Fitzgerald said. "It's going to be different. Having training camp at the facility, I've never had that before and there's going to be a lot of (newness). And we have to adjust to it and we have to do it very quickly."
The lack of in-person training is not a completely foreign concept to Fitzgerald, as he was involved during the lockout in 2011 that extended from March to July of that year. In fact, having the freedom to be on his own is how Fitzgerald prefers the offseason be conducted.
"Personally, (2011) was my favorite offseason I've ever had in 17 years, it's not even close," Fitzgerald said. "I'm a professional. You don't have to wake me up in the morning to go train and catch balls and run routes. I'm going to do it. That's my livelihood, that's my passion, that's my joy. It gives me the ability to be a lot more flexible in that I can go do meetings; and sit in on more meetings; and do some of the other things that I'm interested in; and also get the work that I know I need to get done to prepare myself for the rigors of the football season. For a guy like me it's great. I'm not having the wear and tear of minicamps and OTAs and the drudgery and monotony of sitting in meetings all day. (They are) things that you pretty much known for the last 16 years, and I can get right to the things that are most important to me in terms of getting myself together, which I know. And so this has been great."
Still, Fitzgerald has an appreciation for the change in circumstances that have led to the implementation of this virtual setting. He is not naive to the implications that the virus, as well as the state of the country after the killing of George Floyd in his hometown of Minneapolis have had on the league as a whole.
"Obviously, the only differences have been the things that we're dealing with," Fitzgerald said of now versus the lockout. "None of us have really had to deal with (this) in our lifetimes on our football team with the COVID. Now the protests and things of that nature that are going on. That's been different, but in terms of the preparation for ball, it's been great."