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Larry Fitzgerald Working On His Legacy

Posted Sep 10, 2015

Veteran wide receiver starts 12th season "good" with his role and his place in Arizona

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald greets teammate Tyrann Mathieu during introductions of a preseason game.

The other wide receivers took the spotlight in training camp.

Whether it was John Brown’s burgeoning stardom or Michael Floyd’s hand injury or rookie J.J. Nelson’s emergence as a deep threat, they were the ones who attracted the storylines. Larry Fitzgerald remained in the background.

His story came in February, when he and the team renegotiated his contract to lower his salary cap number and make sure Fitzgerald remained an Arizona Cardinal. When training camp began, Fitzgerald quietly had an excellent month of practice, even as the other pass catchers took the headlines.

As Fitzgerald is set to begin his 12th NFL season Sunday against the Saints, nothing else has changed. Coach Bruce Arians has said multiple times the days of Fitzgerald’s gaudy stats are over. Fitzgerald plays multiple positions, running shorter routes than he once did. He hasn’t had 1,000 yards in a season since 2011.

But if his willingness to work with the Cardinals to stay around meant anything (and it didn’t hurt that the Cardinals guaranteed him $22 million for the next two seasons), it was that Fitzgerald has come to terms with how he’s used and the team with which he plays.

Fitzgerald wouldn’t get quite that specific – he loathes talking about such things in detail – but said he’s content.

“I’m good with anything,” Fitzgerald said Thursday after the media hoard had left. “At this point I’m glad I can still play in the same place and continue to live the dream.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer has talked multiple times about his comfort in Arians’ offense and how much better he is three years into the learning curve. Fitzgerald echoes the sentiment, after battling his way through different positions and option routes he never had to worry about during the pre-Arians years.

As an offense, “I feel like it’s our time to take off, really,” Fitzgerald said. “The last two years the defense has been the best unit. I think it’s time for us to take that mantle.”

Having the superstar work to embrace his role was another reason the Cardinals wanted to keep him around, even at a high salary. The current Fitzgerald has become one of the better run-blocking wide receivers in the NFL, frequently crucial when the Cards go to the ground game.

“He’s so far advanced,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He even came in the O-line room this morning (and) I taught him a couple of things he needed to know in the run game.

“If you ask Larry, he wants to stay off that accountability sheet, and when that thing goes up in the morning in the team meeting, he does not want to see his number. He’s way ahead of where he’s been in the past.”

The past also gives hints to a Fitz statistical semi-revival. Lost in the injury-riddled 2014 season of Palmer was the chemistry he and Fitzgerald found midway through last season – after Palmer’s shoulder injury but before his ACL tear (and before Fitzgerald was hobbled with a knee injury.) During that stretch, Fitzgerald and Palmer connected 31 times for 461 yards in five games, a pace that in a small sample size had Fitzgerald on a 1,000-yard pace.

Fitzgerald never was into talking statistical goals much anyway. These days, with the passing offense potentially Brown’s one day, Floyd’s another and Fitzgerald’s the third week, it seems even less necessary. He has become a huge emotional force for the team, his demonstrative outbursts after important catches hard not to notice.

Fitzgerald talks about feeling fortunate just to be entering his 12th season in a league where many players are done after four. “It means you were doing something right,” he noted.

He’s committed to being a Cardinal and not chasing a destination that might have been more statistically friendly. He remains the face of the franchise -- a player that, even after a camp where the cameras found the other receivers more often, was surrounded by the media for his weekly Thursday session.

Bring up the word “legacy,” and Fitzgerald pauses only briefly.

“Still working on it,” Fitzgerald said. “The book has not ended yet. Every day keep working on my craft, and hopefully create a good one for myself when I’m done.”

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