Thursday, February 2, 2012
Fitzgerald sizes up improved NFC West
By Mike Sando ESPN.com
Larry Fitzgerald likes Arizona's QB situation and the developing rivalries in the NFC West.
INDIANAPOLIS -- On the field, the best NFL cornerbacks are often no match for Larry Fitzgerald.
Keeping up with the Arizona Cardinals' Pro Bowl receiver off the field can be a challenge, too.
Fans and media pulled at Fitzgerald from every direction Thursday while he navigated ESPN's various media platforms before heading over to the Super Bowl's Radio Row.
"Larry, I came all the way from Pittsburgh!" one fan shouted, pleading for an autograph.
"You said you would sign when you came out," another yelled.
Fitzgerald stopped to sign, but the media wave carrying him along wasn't as patient. Fitzgerald joined "Mike & Mike in the Morning" before answering chat questions and fulfilling obligations related to his promotional contract with Visa. The gig required trading his cutting-edge wardrobe for a black golf shirt with a corporate logo.
A short drive from ESPN's Super Bowl headquarters to the main NFL hotel provided an opportunity to speak with Fitzgerald about his team and the changing NFC West.
The Cardinals went from 1-6 to 8-8. What was your takeaway from the season?
Larry Fitzgerald: We didn't do a good job focusing in. The attention to detail wasn't there early on. Too many turnovers. A lot of those mistakes caused us to lose a lot of games early. The coaches and the players did a good job staying the course, understanding the formula wasn't broken. We can get it turned around.
Is there a danger of assuming a carryover from the fast finish?
LF: No. We're not naive like that. We'll have some confidence going into this year, but all in all, teams are going to get better and we need to address some needs and get better ourselves.
What did you learn about the quarterback situation in Arizona?
LF: I think we've got two good quarterbacks on the roster. That is a good problem to have. A lot of teams don't have that. Kevin (Kolb) is capable of good things. He has the ability to make it happen. John (Skelton) got good experience, got better and was able to perform for us. We know we have two quarterbacks that can win for us.
LF: They are much more physical, much more physical. At the Pro Bowl last week, they had three guys from their secondary, Brandon Browner and Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. When you look at Chancellor, Chancellor is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and a phenomenal athlete with good ball skills, good range. Earl Thomas is like a young Troy Polamalu, flying around and making plays. And Brandon Browner is the biggest cornerback I've ever seen in my life. He can play, too. He can cover. I really like the young rookie they have, (Richard) Sherman from Stanford. He is going to be a good player. Obviously, when they get Marcus Trufant back, that will only make them deeper. They challenge you at the point of attack. They want to pressure you and make things uncomfortable for you at the line of scrimmage, and their whole philosophy has changed. It's fun to play against them.
LF: They just, defensively, they don't do a lot of tricky things. They're not going to give you a lot of different coverages. What they do is they play with their coach very well. Their safeties are much improved. Donte Whitner had a phenomenal season, probably his best season as a pro. (Dashon) Goldson is playing at an All-Pro level. Carlos Rogers was a great addition. Hopefully, he goes and gets the money in the free agent market.
LF, laughing: Somewhere else. Tarell Brown is playing a lot better. (Chris) Culliver, the rookie, played well for them. And you don't even have to mention Patrick Willis. He is their bell cow, he is their leader and the person who makes that whole thing go. NaVorro Bowman, he had an All-Pro season. Justin Smith played lights-out for them, and then their rookie, Aldon Smith, is going to be a force to be reckoned with for many, many years. They are only getting better. We have got to match that firepower.
LF: They have the infrastructure there. They have the quarterback already in place. Steven Jackson is one of the best. Sam Bradford is a phenomenal talent. Defenisvely, they are getting better over there as well. With coach Fisher coming in, the coach from the New Orleans Saints (Gregg Williams, new defensive coordinator), defensively, you know what that is going to be about. They are going to be bringing a lot of pressure. They are going to cause some turnovers.
The games between San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona became bloodbaths at times late last season.
LF: The divisoin is getting better. Two years ago, people looked at the NFC West as the armpit of the league, so to speak. Now, teams are playing much better. The games are physical now. That is good because you want the competition, you want to have great division rivalries. That is a lot of fun, like the NFC East. I don't care if Washington is playing at New York, you can get beat. We want to build it up that way, too.
Your Week 17 game against Seattle comes to mind. You had nine catches for 149 yards, but it wasn't easy.
LF: I was pretty banged up going into the week and banged up coming out of it. It was a meaningless game for both of us, but that showed the competition. Going out and competing is still a lot of fun.