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Talkin' About Practice: Larry Fitzgerald's Effort Stands Out 17 Years In

Wide receiver knows teammates need to see him "committed to the cause"

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauls in a deep pass during a recent training camp practice.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauls in a deep pass during a recent training camp practice.

Brett Hundley, an inquisitive sort, made his way over to Larry Fitzgerald during a practice at State Farm Stadium near the end of the training camp.

Fitzgerald, who begins his 17th season in San Francisco Sunday and who turned 37 last week, was "out here looking like 25," Hundley said. So the backup quarterback wanted to know about his motivation.

"The one thing he told me on the sideline was he still wants it more," Hundley said. "You see it in his practice, you see it in his games, you see it the way he interacts with people. He's just a professional. He loves the game of football. Even at 37, he's an old man, but he still is ballin'."

Over the years, Fitzgerald has made reference to thinking about spending less time "volunteering" at offseason voluntary OTAs – yet then he shows up at almost every single one. He commented in the offseason he was actually happy on a personal level this OTAs were wiped out, and has complained multiple times about the grind of training camp – and then he went out and was arguably the best player in Glendale.

"He thinks he can get better," wide receivers coach David Raih said. "I don't know who's made more plays in camp."

Fitzgerald acknowledges he probably doesn't need OTAs at this point in his career, and the cancellations this offseason gave his body a break it likely could use.

But even in camp, Fitzgerald loathed to take days off. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said he had to insist on Fitzgerald sitting out sometimes, and on those days, Fitzgerald would frequently stand just a few feet behind quarterback Kyler Murray on the field, moving at the snap in the direction of the play, taking as intense of a mental rep as possible.

"It's the level of commitment that I have, for the team, for the locker room, for this community, for myself," Fitzgerald said. "I can't lead from Minnesota (where Fitzgerald has a home).

"My teammates are here on the field practicing, doesn't matter what I've done in the past, they need to see somebody who is committed to the cause, who is in the foxhole, who is willing to do exactly what they are willing to do, and that can't change."

Fitzgerald is all in. It's odd in some ways that the window of Fitzgerald retiring – at least the feeling he might – seems to have been stronger a couple of years ago than now. Maybe it was the arrival of Murray, or an offense created by Kingsbury. Maybe it's the trade for DeAndre Hopkins, which gives Fitzgerald his best pairing since Anquan Boldin left.

Maybe it's just Fitzgerald's realization that he can still play at a high level. He was still the Cardinals' best receiver last season. His play in training camp certainly only underscores his continuing abilities, as he pushes for the one thing he has yet to attain.

"The only thing he's discussed with me is winning a Super Bowl," Kingsbury said. "He has a sense of urgency to get that done. I've never heard him bring up anything else. That's refreshing. When you watch him practice this year, and even last year, he is a phenom at that position. The things he’s doing in camp at his age, he laid out for a catch and sprints the next 70 yards for a touchdown, it's like he's trying to make the team every day. He has this nervous energy to make the team every day, in every drill and every walkthrough rep."

There are other things out there for Fitz, most notably Jerry Rice's all-time record for career receptions. Fitzgerald is now 172 catches short of surpassing Rice, conceivable with two good seasons in this offense. (He's still 5,812 yards shy of Rice, a mountain that may be too tall to climb.)

"I don't care about that stuff," Fitzgerald said. "I mean, Jerry has something that I really want, and that's three Super Bowl rings. That's the only record I would love to be able to compete with him. The catches and yards and touchdowns, nobody cares about that stuff. It's an interesting footnote, but it doesn't mean anything.

"I really wanted to be part of a championship team, and that's going to come with whatever is required – if I'm asked to block on a play, if I'm asked to catch on a play, if I'm asked to throw on a play, whatever I need to do to help us get across that finish line."

Requirements start with practice. It was the hundreds of reps he got with Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer that made those connections so great. It makes sense that Fitzgerald would like to put in similar time with Murray and see what kind of magic might be created.

"I think he loves the game and he has a chip on his shoulder that he thinks he can still do it – obviously he can still do it for a longer time," said Murray, who just turned 23. "If I were him, I'd be doing the same thing. If I could still go, I'd still go."

Fitzgerald plays with the urgency and anxiety of a rookie, Raih said, but has combined it with the confidence of a 17-year veteran and the competitive fire that still has him trash-talking teammates and diving for catches in practice.

"I'm still nervous," Fitzgerald said. "I still have the same feeling I had when I ran out there going to play at Sun Devil Stadium. Nothing has changed. And I'm glad I still have that feeling, because I know (the game) is still important to me."

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald brings in a sideline catch -- two feet in -- during training camp.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald brings in a sideline catch -- two feet in -- during training camp.