The minicamp is mandatory, and so Larry Fitzgerald was always going to be here.
The rest of the offseason is voluntary, and if anyone would miss some of that time it would figure to be Fitz, a man going into his 15th season whose résumé will put him in the Hall of Fame someday.
Fitzgerald has been here, however. Coach Steve Wilks has noticed, calling the wide receiver’s constant presence “invaluable.” Fitzgerald isn’t too proud to note he’s been around for more of this offseason than most in recent years, and there were good reasons for that.
While Bruce Arians just asked Fitzgerald to be ready for camp, Fitzgerald said Wilks asked early on if the veteran could be a part of this first offseason with the new staff and offense. But more than that, Fitzgerald said “I wanted to start off on the right foot and make sure Kevin knew I was in the fight with him from Day One.”
Kevin is Kevin Garver, the team’s wide receivers coach who serves as the assistant receivers coach for the five seasons when Arians was head coach and Darryl Drake was the wide receivers coach. The two have grown close over the years. Considering Fitzgerald was already a Canton candidate when Garver arrived as a 25-year-old with no NFL experience, it’s a remarkable relationship.
“The one thing I always noticed with him, (Larry) didn’t care who you were,” Garver said. “What he wanted to know was, can you help him get better? He was always open really from the beginning. It’s a testament who he is as a football player and as a person.”
Garver helped guide Fitzgerald through the bumpy transition Fitzgerald had to Arians’ offense. Fitzgerald lauded Garver’s maturity and intelligence and football knowledge, saying Garver “really has no weaknesses” as a coach.
“I’m just glad he got an opportunity,” Fitzgerald said. “He should have had an opportunity years back. The guy, he’s just that good. I respect the hell out of him.”
So Fitzgerald has been out in April and May and now June, flashing his one-handed catches and always taking the first rep for the wide receivers in every drill, sweating in the 100-degree-plus heat. His return for a 15th season -- with a chance to make 100-plus catches for a fourth straight season -- has been settled for a while although exactly how Fitzgerald will be deployed in Mike McCoy’s system is still under development.
Wilks reiterated Fitzgerald is the Cardinals’ No. 1 receiver, something that probably could have gone unsaid. His praise for Fitzgerald’s presence is notable, however.
“It means a lot to me as a first-year head coach,” Wilks said. “It can be an extension of your voice in the locker room.”
To prove the point, rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk also noted Fitzgerald’s work is meaningful.
“There are a lot of elite guys who don’t come to OTAs in the league,” Kirk said. “He’s one of the most seasoned veterans, who has done so much, and he comes to everything, he’s at every meeting, he’s at every workout, he’s at every practice. He sets the standard.”
There are personal reasons Fitzgerald wants to be around. An older player always faces challenges, and as great as he has been, Fitzgerald insisted he must maintain the mentality that he could lose his roster spot to any one of a number of players who are now more than a decade younger.
“Those guys, they’re not bringing them in here to for their own health,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s to give them an opportunity to take your job and that’s not lost on me, ever.”
How many more times will Fitzgerald fight for a job? Could this end up being his final offseason? Fitzgerald wasn’t going to go there. Sure, the quarterback situation for the future has been rectified with Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen, but Fitz has no desire to talk about his place in the NFL beyond this season.
“I’m just trying to get to February in one piece,” Fitzgerald said, noting, “I don’t buy green bananas.”
However long he does play, he has motivation in helping Garver – a coach and a friend.
“I love Kevin and I want to be successful for Kevin, because I know in a few years he’ll be an offensive coordinator and a few years after that he’ll be a head coach,” Fitzgerald said. “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can while I can to help him elevate.”
June Minicamp Day One
Images from the first day of mandatory minicamp