TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — As the Arizona Cardinals gathered at midfield near the start of their first minicamp of the year, Larry Fitzgerald stood with his arm around the shoulder of team President Michael Bidwill. After all, they've been together quite a while.
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — As the Arizona Cardinals gathered at midfield near the start of their first minicamp of the year, Larry Fitzgerald stood with his arm around the shoulder of team President Michael Bidwill.
After all, they've been together quite a while.
Pro football players rarely spend a long career with one team. Fitzgerald is entering his 15th season with the Cardinals, a span that has resulted in statistics that rank him among the game's greatest receivers.
And he's not finished yet, learning a new offense as workouts began Tuesday with new coach Steve Wilks and his staff.
"I dreamed I would be able to play in the same place and be able to play at a high level for a long time," Fitzgerald said. "That's what you work for. That's what you aspire to do. To be able to do it is a real blessing, but it's a new journey this year."
Fitzgerald will turn 35 before the next season starts and he's shown no sign of diminished production. Last season, he tied his franchise record with 109 receptions, second-most in the NFL behind Jarvis Landry's 112, for 1,156 yards. It was the ninth time he has passed 1,000 yards receiving. Only Jerry Rice (14) and Randy Moss (10) have more 1,000-yard seasons.
While quarterback Carson Palmer and coach Bruce Arians retired after last season, Fitzgerald chose to return and is doing so with high enthusiasm.
"I never really need to be rejuvenated," he said. "I love the competition. I love hearing people say 'he's 35, he's too old to do this still,' and me just continuing to do what I do. All that stuff motivated me. ... Honestly, I'm as motivated as I was when I was 20 just cutting my teeth. It doesn't really turn off.
"That's a good and a bad thing. I'm probably going to struggle when I'm done with it."
Fitzgerald is third all-time in receptions (1,234) — behind Tony Gonzalez and Rice — and in yards receiving (15,545) — behind Terrell Owens and Rice. He needs 92 catches and 390 yards to move into second in both categories. He's caught at least one pass in 211 consecutive games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
Yet his importance in the locker room might supersede his performance on the field.
"He's the best teammate, the best guy, I've really ever been around," center A.Q. Shipley said.
Wilks is Fitzgerald's fifth head coach in Arizona. The two have been spending time together. They were courtside at a recent NBA game between the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.
"Just from my short time around him, it would be difficult for you not to like him," Fitzgerald said. "Something would probably have to be wrong with you not to like him, honestly. I mean, he's so approachable, he's so down to earth. Honesty, integrity, all those things kind of come to mind when you talk to him."
Wilks, the defensive coordinator at Carolina before coming to Arizona, knows how fortunate he is to inherit a wide receiver who certainly seems headed to the Hall of Fame.
"I talk about this all the time with Larry," Wilks said, "a pillar of this community and really of the National Football League. And to have this guy on our team, to have him as a voice in that locker room, an extension of the coaches, that's huge."
Fitzgerald isn't sure what his role will be in the new offense installed by coordinator Mike McCoy. He's been studying the playbook so much he said he feels like he's in college again.
Fitzgerald insists he takes nothing for granted.
"Stature doesn't really get you anything," he said. "This is a prove-it business. Nobody cares what you did last year or the year before. That's in the history, that's in the past, so you're always trying to accomplish something new every day. That's my mindset."
In the meantime, Fitzgerald's annual celebrity charity softball game is this Saturday. He has an All-Star cast of participants, including star running back David Johnson.
But Johnson has been the butt of some severe criticism on Twitter from Fitzgerald for his lack of softball skill.
"Well, he stinks," Fitzgerald said. "D.J.'s bad at baseball. He's a great football player, a wonderful husband, unbelievable father, terrible baseball player."
Notes: Arians didn't believe in team stretching but, with music in the background, the team went through organized stretching drills on Tuesday. .... Wilks repeated the plan to bring quarterback Sam Bradford along slowly after his return from injury and has no timetable for when he will be a full participant.