Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald remains among the league-leaders in receiving despite advancing age.
Larry Fitzgerald received a day off from practice on Thursday, not for any injury, but because he's a veteran who can use the extra rest.
"If you play in 170-plus games in the National Football League, there are going to be some issues with health," the Cardinals' star wideout said. "I don't care who you are."
Eventually, injuries or a decline in skill catches up to every NFL veteran. The Ravens will play on Monday night with a defense that looks nothing like its former dominant self, as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are retired and linebacker Terrell Suggs is out for the season with an Achilles injury.
Even with those players gone, the matchup also proves there is no set expiration date on careers, as several 30-somethings enter looking like their prime selves.
Fitzgerald, 32, is fourth in the NFL with 583 receiving yards and tied for first with six touchdown catches. Quarterback Carson Palmer, 35, is fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 1,737 and has the fourth-best quarterback rating. Running back Chris Johnson, 30, is fifth in the NFL with 455 rushing yards and averages 4.8 yards-per-carry.
On the other side is Steve Smith Sr., who plans to retire at the end of the season but is playing nothing like a wideout with one foot out the door. The 36-year-old is sixth in the NFL averaging 102 receiving yards per contest.
Smith doesn't think a player's ability to last in the NFL should be correlated to their year of birth.
"Quit mentioning our age and just look at, 'Can we play?'" Smith said in a conference call this week. "That's all we're doing is playing. Everybody wants to mention our age. Some stupid reporter reported that when I played Cincinnati, I threw up. He said that had to do with my age. I guess young people don't get upset stomachs. I guess that's only for the elderly.
"Our age is our age. It's not my fault I was born in 1979. That's just how it is. … Can I run like I was fresh out of Utah? No. But I also look at understanding technique and understanding how the route is run and what else the other guys are running. Understanding, really, what my job is as a whole."
The veterans seem to have a keener sense of their football mortality now – constant outside speculation makes it impossible to ignore – but Fitzgerald said there's no greater sense of pride in putting up numbers at this stage of his career.
"When I had success at 20, 21, it didn't feel any different than having success at 32," Fitzgerald said.
For Palmer, having players like Fitzgerald and Johnson around him adds to his peace of mind. As long as the physical aspect holds up, the mental advantages can be crucial in pressure-packed situations.
"Those guys have made a lot of plays, won a lot of games, carried the load – each of them, so you know they can do it," Palmer said. "Just knowing that they can do it is a warm and fuzzy feeling."
CARDINALS DOUBLE UP ON PADDED PRACTICES
Bruce Arians has been pleased with each of the first two practices since Sunday's loss to the Steelers. It helps to have pads on, which the team did on both days.
The collective bargaining agreement limits padded practices to once a week during the season, but teams are allowed to do two in a week one time. The Cardinals had a bonus practice this week since they don't play until Monday, which is assumedly why they went with pads twice.
Arians said the ability to practice at full-speed with pads made a difference.
"It's football, it ain't soccer," Arians said. "You can go at a better tempo because you're protected."
HAMSTRING LIMITS JOHN BROWN
Wide receiver John Brown practiced in a limited capacity after his hamstring tightened up, Arians said. Also limited were cornerback Justin Bethel (foot), defensive tackle Cory Redding (shoulder), defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (foot) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (chest). Linebacker Alex Okafor (calf) and tight end Darren Fells (shoulder) did not practice.
For the Ravens, not practicing were linebacker Elvis Dumervil (non-injury-related), wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee), safety Terrence Brooks (thumb), cornerback Asa Jackson (thigh), safety Kendrick Lewis (knee), tight end Maxx Williams (knee/ankle) and linebacker Daryl Smith (non-injury-related). Defensive end Chris Canty (calf), cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) and guard Marshal Yanda (ankle) were limited.
HUGHES RE-SIGNED TO PRACTICE SQUAD
Running back Robert Hughes was re-signed to the practice squad. He played for the Cardinals last season and was one of the final cuts in training camp. Running back Mike Gillislee was released from the practice squad to make room.
Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Baltimore Ravens