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Larry Fitzgerald Believes In 2017 Cardinals

Posted Jan 31, 2017

Notes: If star returns, he has faith team can win Super Bowl; Arians talks coaching changes

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald takes a photo with a Special Olympian prior to the the Putting Challenge at the Waste Management Open.

If Larry Fitzgerald returns to the Cardinals in 2017, a major reason will be to chase a Super Bowl ring which has thus far eluded him.

Despite the team finishing 7-8-1 a season ago, the star wideout believes it has the capability of bouncing back to that level.

“I don’t know if there is a team that has better personnel than us in the National Football League, to be quite honest with you,” Fitzgerald said after participating in the Special Olympics Putting Challenge at the Waste Management Open on Tuesday. “With coach (Bruce) Arians and the offensive staff he’s put together and the defense – we’re a top-10 defense, top-10 offense. You can’t ask for anybody that’s more potent.”

That’s the general feeling around the Cardinals. When Arians was asked about free agency, he said the priority was to re-sign the team’s own players who are set to hit the open market. A year ago, Arians and General Manager Steve Keim were intent on upgrading the pass rush, which culminated in a trade for outside linebacker Chandler Jones.

“There’s no glaring need like there was last year,” Arians said.

If Fitzgerald and quarterback Carson Palmer retire, obviously the Cardinals will look vastly different next season. But if they return, the idea is to again roll out the core which made the NFC Championship game in 2015.

 “We’ve got the major pieces, and hopefully the two major pieces will stay,” Arians said. “We can build around that.”

Arians has small tweaks he’d like to make – including the addition of a dynamic punt and kick returner – but said the reasons for last season’s woes were mostly self-inflicted.

“When you look at the close-game losses, and why, there was a lack of discipline at times,” Arians said. “Guys were trying to do too much instead of just doing their job. We missed some kicks we should have made. But overall – I don’t want to use the word stupid, but we played stupid at times. And it cost us.”

ARIANS ADDRESSES COACHING CHANGES

Arians said after the season he wasn’t going to change his coaching staff unless someone left. That was the case when Stump Mitchell departed, which Arians said was Mitchell’s choice.

As a result, quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens was shuffled over to coach the running backs, and Byron Leftwich was hired as the quarterbacks coach after interning in 2016.

“Freddie is a coordinator in waiting, so going to another position will help our running backs because he knows the passing game inside and out,” Arians said. “It’s another step for Freddie to become a coordinator, to coach another position.”

Arians was pleased with Leftwich’s input last season.

“I’ve been bugging Byron to get into coaching for about four years,” Arians said. “He couldn’t get off the golf course. I knew once he did it, he’d be hooked. He’s hook, line and sinker now. He’s all in. He’ll be a head coach early and fast.”

CAMP CUPCAKE GETS TOUGHER

Arians has termed the Cardinals’ training camp stay as “Camp Cupcake” because of the amenities and shorter practice times compared to past years.

He admitted he also contributed to that attitude in 2016, pulling back on hitting because he had such a veteran group and wanted to avoid injuries. That philosophy will change this year.

“We’re going to hit in camp more than we have in the past,” Arians said. “That’s the one thing I’ve decided. Tackling is a lost art. It’s really bad in college and it’s gotten pitiful in the NFL. We’re going to tackle more in camp and roll the dice that we’re not going to get anybody hurt.

“Last year I thought that we were such a veteran team – and they worked really hard – but our young players missed out on some things, and it cost them helping us sooner. So that’s one thing we’ll do differently.”

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