There have been conversations for Larry Fitzgerald, with Hines Ward, with Reggie Wayne – guys that were taken inside by Bruce Arians and asked to become a different kind of wide receiver than they had been previous.
Fitzgerald hoped to speed up the learning curve with his move inside the numbers, with a request to become a much better blocker. The idea, said offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin – who was on the staff with Arians in both Pittsburgh (with Ward) and Indianapolis (with Wayne) – was simple.
"When you are in the slot and you're blocking, you are setting up your future for the passing game," Goodwin said.
That seemed to come together exactly how it should in Chicago, crystallized on Fitzgerald's flea-flicker touchdown reception. On the play, Fitzgerald feigned a block, and the Bears bought it long enough for Fitzgerald to release and get open for the score.
The storyline of Fitzgerald adjusting to Arians' offense has been lingering from the time Arians arrived in Arizona. But given Fitzgerald's start – 14 catches for 199 yards in two games – there aren't questions about it anymore.
"I feel like I've been comfortable for a while," Fitzgerald said. "I just wanted to get that trust level with Carson (Palmer) and try to establish that trust with coach Arians. He's somebody you have to earn his trust, and I work every day to do everything he's asking me to do."
The blocking has been a big part of that. Even when the receiving numbers haven't been great the past two seasons, Fitzgerald has emerged – somewhat surprisingly – as one of the best blocking wide receivers in the league.
That's about "heart, the want-to, the will" of Fitzgerald, Goodwin said.
"There are a lot of great receivers that can catch a lot of balls, on the outside, across the middle or whatever, but when it comes to the run game, that's where you get chunk runs or explosive plays, when they are blocking on the second and third level," Goodwin said.
A younger Fitzgerald was rarely asked to block much, nor was much expected when he did. That has changed.
"It wasn't something that was really high on my priority list when I was younger," Fitzgerald said. "Here, for us to have team success, it requires receivers to do some blocking. For us to have the team success, it might ask guys to do things they weren't good at before. We practice it every day. I'm more comfortable with it and try to get better at it."
GOODWIN ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE
There was still no announcement on the starting right tackle spot Thursday – not a surprise, since Arians does not address the media – but Goodwin said Bobby Massie and Earl Watford are splitting reps in practice. He also said Massie stayed engaged during his suspension mentally during meetings (Massie was allowed at the facility, he just couldn't practice) and worked on his technique on his own with former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley.
Goodwin said he didn't think there was any chance Massie and Watford could split time in the game, but "I'm not the boss."
Goodwin did sound confident guard Mike Iupati will be able to play against his former team.
"It's going to be good," Goodwin said. "Mike has been working his butt off. Obviously, we paid him a crapload of money. He wants to play in this game. We'll give it a whirl and see what happens."
BUCANNON, WOODLEY UPGRADED
Running back Andre Ellington (knee) remained sidelined Thursday,although linebacker LaMarr Woodley (shoulder) was upgraded to limited practice and safety Deone Bucannon (groin) was upgraded to a full practice. Iupati (knee), safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) and linebacker Alex Okafor (shoulder) remained limited.
Wide receiver J.J. Nelson (shoulder) didn't practice and Arians has already ruled him out for the week.
For the 49ers, running back Reggie Bush (calf) did not practice. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle) and tight end Vance McDonald (knee) remained limited.