Rookie wide receiver LaRon Byrd makes a catch against the Saints.
FLAGSTAFF – It may be the only time Larry Fitzgerald looks up to LaRon Byrd.
The six-time Pro Bowl receiver sits sixth in receiving for the Cards through two preseason games, a statistical category topped by Byrd, a rookie who has seven catches for 87 yards.
In every other way, however, Byrd looks up to Fitzgerald.
"I just try to get advice from him," said Byrd, an undrafted free agent from Miami (FL). "He's a future Hall of Famer so I'd be stupid on my behalf not to. I'm just trying to take as much as I can in."
It didn't take long for Fitzgerald to take Byrd under his wing "like a little brother, almost." Byrd calls Fitzgerald on a regular basis and the two spend time after practice in the film room dissecting Byrd's performance. Which, by the way, has been impressive enough to catch the eye of coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Byrd caught three of four passes intended for him last week against the Kansas City Chiefs for a team-high 33 yards. Against the Saints, Byrd hauled in four passes for 54 yards, also a team high. And while those two games caught Whisenhunt's attention, it was a stretch late in the second quarter against Kansas City that caught Fitzgerald's.
With Ryan Lindley quarterbacking the Cardinals' offense, Byrd caught three passes in a row for gains of 6, 21 and 6. Byrd injured his shoulder on one of the catches but came back to catch a pass on the next play.
"That kind of toughness, that kind of display of character is going to be infectious around the other guys," Fitzgerald said. "We need more players like him."
The injury kept Byrd out of practice thus far this week but the rookie said it was just for precautionary measures. His status for Friday's preseason home opener against the Raiders is uncertain.
If the physical comparisons weren't enough – Byrd is 6-foot-4 and Fitzgerald is 6-3, and both have dreadlocks – Byrd has taken up a relentless work ethic and dedication to learning the Cardinals' system, and is inquisitive.
"I like the fact that LaRon's always asking questions," said Skelton, who sees similarities when throwing to Byrd and Fitzgerald. "He's very coachable, kinda like Larry is, too. I think that goes a long way and I think that'll help his development."
Byrd's position coach agrees. Wide receivers coach Frank Reich touted Byrd's size and work ethic, saying his study habits outshine his physical gifts.
But despite not putting up the type of numbers that would've helped him get drafted, Byrd has proven to Reich that he has what it takes to compete for a position on an NFL roster.
"The question is, can you make plays in games?" Reich said. "His work ethic on the field is great but then you got to see, can you do it when the lights are on? Can you do it when the game is on the line?
"And so far in the first two preseason games he's made big plays. And the next step really is consistency, it's only been two games so the jury's still out."
Byrd's versatility has already excited Fitzgerald, who has described his teammate as "reliable" and "accountable."
Fitzgerald, 28, has six years on Byrd but said Byrd is farther along as a rookie than he was.
"I wish I was that tough when I was young," Fitzgerald said. "I wish I was that smart when I was young. I relied more on just athleticism. I don't think I really got it until I was probably in my fourth or fifth year, (when) I started really getting into my book and getting after it like that and he already has that at a younger age than I do. That's really encouraging to see."
Just because they look alike doesn't mean LaRon Byrd is going to be the next Larry Fitzgerald. And, true to point, Byrd showed his smarts when asked about being compared to Fitzgerald.
"At the end of the day let me get a touchdown or a regular-season touchdown first and let me get his contract," Byrd said with a wide smile. "And then you can compare me to him."