INDIANAPOLIS – There was no extra conversation between Bruce Arians and Larry Fitzgerald about how the wide receiver would be used in his offense.
That wasn't part of the talks that led to Fitzgerald's new contract. There was only the regular exit interviews after the season, when Arians and Fitzgerald's position coaches spoke to Fitzgerald about "where he was and what we expect for him," Arians said Thursday.
"He plays wide receiver and we're going to throw him the damn ball," Arians said with a smile.
Fitzgerald had only 63 catches for 784 yards last season, but he only played in 14 games – the first time he didn't play all 16 games since 2007. When starting quarterback Carson Palmer was healthy, however, Fitzgerald was averaging 81 yards a game, his best since his 1,411-yard season in 2011.
That's the key for Fitzgerald's numbers, Arians believes. Fitzgerald, who turns 32 in August, seems to have found his place in Arians' offense after some growing pains. What he hasn't been able to do is stay healthy himself.
Fitzgerald battled hamstring problems in 2013. In 2014, he hurt his MCL at the end of preseason and, just when he recovered and was playing well, hurt his MCL again. That's what cost him two games, and it was an injury that lingered through the end of the season.
Combined with the struggles at quarterback the Cardinals had after Palmer was hurt, it led to Fitzgerald's lowest statistical totals since he was a rookie. There was little question Fitzgerald felt at times he should get the ball more – at one point, he dismissed his issues as "champagne problems" – but Arians believes if Fitzgerald's health holds, his stats will rebound.
"We have to keep him healthy," Arians said. "He was playing at a very high level (before his last injury) and obviously he's a warrior so he's going to continue to play through the injury. If we can keep him healthy, he should have a big-time year."
WASHINGTON CAN APPLY FOR REINSTATEMENT IN MARCH
Arians was asked if he was counting on having linebacker Daryl Washington this season.
"When he gets reinstated, I'll start counting on him," Arians said. "I don't even think about him. He's not a member of our team until he gets reinstated."
Washington remains suspended by the NFL. The suspension, which took effect in late May last year, was for violating the league's substance abuse. It is a year-long suspension, although Washington is allowed to apply for reinstatement 60 days ahead of his one-year anniversary. According to the CBA, he must get an answer from commissioner Roger Goodell in 60 days – which could take Washington and the Cardinals past the draft and all the way to the year anniversary.
Washington is also waiting to see if and when the NFL doles out any punishment for his assault conviction from last year.
WANTING SPEED AT LINEBACKER, COMPETITION ON OL
Arians said the top thing he wants to add to the defense is speed at linebacker, which makes sense. Washington's absence brought that into focus at inside linebacker, and more speed off the edge would help a pass rush that could use an upgrade.
Arians wouldn't comment on whether the Cardinals might bring outside linebacker John Abraham back although he said "I love Abe." Abraham has yet to be cleared from his concussion issues.
Competition on the interior of the offensive line is also something Arians seeks. He said the Cardinals are "good" at tackle, praising the progress of right tackle Bobby Massie.
FOOTE TO JOIN COACHING STAFF
Linebacker Larry Foote will be joining the Cardinals' coaching staff, working with inside linebackers, Arians said.
"We'll add him to the staff to get his coaching career started, but his playing career might not be over," Arians said.
How the Cardinals improve their roster this offseason likely will impact Foote's choice, but Arians has long considered Foote a potential coach once he officially retired from playing.
Images from the NFL Scouting combine