Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin hauls in a touchdown catch between two Miami defenders during a win over the Dolphins.
The ball came from about the 11-yard line, once Kurt Warner had dropped in the pocket, and Anquan Boldin didn't really have time to think.
He was five or six yards deep in the end zone and Dolphins defensive backs Michael Lehan and Yeremiah Bell were hovering right near him. Yet Boldin never lost concentration or his focus on the play.
The result was an improbable touchdown – and a matter-of-fact result, again, this time from Boldin but as frequently from fellow Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald. The ball may come into traffic, but more often than not, Fitzgerald and Boldin find a way to make the catch.
"When the ball is in the air," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano lamented after Miami's visit, "they think it's theirs."
There are drills the Cardinals run during practice to improve the ability to catch in traffic or when covered, such as the "bad ball" drill, when coaches stand in the way of the receivers and offensive coordinator Todd Haley hurls errant throws.
That, however, is far removed from Fitzgerald's leaping grab against the Dolphins with cornerback Will Allen hanging right next to him. Fitzgerald not only came down with the ball, but he then juked safety Chris Crocker and turned a 20-yard catch into a 75-yard reception.
Practice is necessary, but it's folly to believe natural ability isn't the main factor.
"The two of those guys have some of the greatest ball skills, as we coaches say, that I have ever seen," receivers coach Mike Miller said.
While Fitzgerald understands about inherent ability – "I have always caught the ball well ever since I was a little kid; I think that it's just a gift God has given me," he said – Boldin, not surprisingly, turns the concept more toward a will imposed on an opponent.
"A lot of it is want-to," Boldin said. "When the ball is in the air, no matter where it is, you have to make up in your mind it's your ball no matter what. That is something both of us have."
Some of the successes of Fitzgerald and Boldin are born from necessity. Neither player often creates a ton of separation via speed – Boldin's fly-by of Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele notwithstanding – and both have built careers on being physical with defensive backs.
Warner said earlier this season he has had to get used to his two star wideouts. After playing with Rams receivers back in his "Greatest Show on Turf" days, who were all about getting separation, Warner's current receivers will have defenders near them as he throws the ball.
Fitzgerald even said "it takes guts" for Warner to throw some of the passes that he does.
Warner, however, has gotten used to it. He insisted he threw the ball to the double-covered Boldin on Boldin's back shoulder on purpose, so Boldin was the only one who could catch the ball. Boldin even said it was a play the Cards worked on in practice.
"Maybe it is a bad thing everything's become routine but between the lines (on the field), that's what you like," Warner said. "You like tough plays becoming routine and that's what those guys do."
Miller said when he watched the coaches' tape from the Miami game, right after Boldin made his catch, he watched one of the Dolphins' defenders turn around "totally miffed" Boldin ended up with the ball.
Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise.
"Me and Q, if the ball is in the air and a guy is guarding us, we don't feel as if the guy is going to be able to check us," Fitzgerald said. "That's what you have to have. You have to have that mentality the guy across from you just can't have it."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 9/18/08.