NFC West: Larry Fitzgerald

The Film Don't Lie: Cardinals

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
A weekly look at what the Arizona Cardinals must fix:

Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been targeted more in the last two weeks after a firestorm erupted in Week 1, but it hasn’t been enough, especially early in games. The Cardinals are off this week before they travel to Denver in Week 5 to face a Broncos secondary that’s allowed the second-most passing yards per game. Arizona can spend that time working on getting Fitzgerald involved in the game plan earlier. If there was a game to get Fitzgerald involved again, this would be it.

When Fitzgerald is involved in the first-half offense, the Cardinals can move the ball more efficiently and score at a higher clip -- as was evident again in Week 3, when Arizona scored just six points in the first two quarters, when Fitzgerald was targeted just twice. It’s easy to say Fitzgerald is involved in the offense, but when you compare Weeks 2 and 3, the lack of his presence is obvious. Against New York in Week 2, the Cardinals scored 10 points in the first half after targeting Fitzgerald seven times.

During his progressions, Drew Stanton looked Fitzgerald’s way more often than Carson Palmer did in Week 1, but even those were few and far between, a review of the game film proved. Fitzgerald, whose first catch didn’t come until the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided, often drew single coverage underneath in the first half. With deep help over the top, the short routes to Fitzgerald were open in the first half. A few passes to him could’ve opened up the rest of the passing game in the first two quarters.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The avalanche of off-field stories continued for the Arizona Cardinals when running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on assault charges.

Being asked about contracts, injuries, play-calling and, now, a teammate’s legal issues, has become routine for the Cardinals.

Larry Fitzgerald
"We move on," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It’s not a distraction. It will not be a distraction. Our team’s kinda gotten used to what everybody else would consider a distraction, and get ready for a huge football game this Sunday."

The Cardinals have answered a lot of questions, but not many about the 49ers, who come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The series of off-the-field stories came full circle Friday when linebacker John Abraham was put on injured reserve because of a concussion he suffered in Week 1. Abraham started the list of off-the-field stories when his June arrest on suspicion of DUI in Atlanta was reported during the first few days of training camp.

Since then:
Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t think he has seen this many off-field stories this early in a season in the first 10 years of his career.

"Adversity, it comes in all different sizes, shapes and forms," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be able to deal with it. Everybody’s dealing with it in some way or form. We got this type of issue here. Washington’s dealing with injuries.

"It’s all different. But come Sunday, it doesn’t matter. The best team has to come out there and win."

As far as Arizona’s on-field performance goes, the Cardinals are 2-0, having won with two different starting quarterbacks. Arians said the off-field issues haven’t strayed onto the Cardinals’ practice field this week. He called Wednesday and Thursday’s practices "great."

Larry Foote, a 13-year veteran, said Arizona needs to approach Dwyer’s absence like an injury: Next man up.

"We just got to keep rolling,” he said.

Fitzgerald said Arizona’s focus hasn’t waned.

"It hasn’t changed one bit," Fitzgerald said. "If anything, it’s even sharper.

"You come in the locker room (Thursday), I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this kind of media contingency here at the Cardinals, Thursday, Week 3. It’s just like the Super Bowl a couple years ago. We understand that there’s a lot of eyes on us. We have to [home] in. We have to have that bunker mentality. We got to just rely on each other and fight for each other."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Rookie nickelback Jimmie Ward, all 5-feet-11, 193 pounds of him, had his NFL baptism by fire at the hands, and feet, of the Chicago Bears' 6-4, 229-pound Brandon Marshall last Sunday.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Tony AvelarSan Francisco rookie Jimmie Ward went up against a bigger body last Sunday in Chicago's Brandon Marshall and goes up against a similar player next in Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.
The San Francisco 49ers' first-round draft pick was victimized for all three of Marshall's touchdown receptions, from 17, 5 and 3 yards, in the Bears' 28-20 comeback win at Levi's Stadium.

"It's only going to get me better," Ward said after the game.

"I was challenging him ... I was trying to press him and [get] in his face, but he made some great catches. He's good with his body."

And now, after enduring a -1.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, Ward figures to get a healthy dose of another physical wideout in the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, who is 6-3, 225 pounds and has lined up in the slot 36.7 percent of the time in two games.

So how can Ward improve in that potential matchup, especially in the red zone?

"Play a little firmer," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Know that the body that he's going against is bigger than his and get him some help. He's just got to play a little better. He was trying to do things right the other night, but just weren't good enough.

"It's not a major overhaul or panic button, he's just got to be a little bit better."

Fangio as well as other players have talked with Ward this week to keep his confidence up after a rough outing.

"He's a confident competitor, but yet accountable," Fangio said. "He knows if a play isn't good enough, he knows that. He doesn't start to look for excuses or point the finger. He just looks at himself. But, yeah, he's a confident guy."

As is the eight-time Pro Bowler Fitzgerald.
This is an examination of what the Cardinals must do after their win over the Chargers.

When a future Hall of Famer isn’t targeted until the fourth quarter -- late in the fourth, at that -- something needs to be done by the Arizona Cardinals.

For the first time in Larry Fitzgerald’s career, he wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. It wasn’t necessarily an oversight by quarterback Carson Palmer, who said after Arizona’s 18-17 win over the Chargers on Monday night that he doesn’t want to force passes to Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald isn’t always double-teamed. And with his new role in the slot, there are plenty of options for Arizona to find him.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald needs to be a priority for the Cardinals’ offense Sunday against the Giants, if not just to get the football into the surest hands in the NFL but to help give the rest of the offense single coverage. By going to Fitzgerald early at MetLife Stadium against a New York defense that allowed 341 passing yards to Detroit in Week 1, the Cards won’t just get the offense into a rhythm, but will force the Giants to start paying attention to Fitzgerald. That opens the offense for Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn, John Brown, Andre Ellington and the tight ends.

Palmer learned his lesson last season about forcing passes into Fitzgerald, especially when he’s double- or triple-teamed, which is often the case. But he’s also one of the best receivers in the league at using his body to get himself open. A few quick passes to him and a safety might spend more time on Fitzgerald’s side of the field, which means Floyd, who had 119 yards receiving against the Chargers, might draw single coverage. That, in turn, opens the running game as well as the tight ends.

Arizona has plenty of options, but in order for them to get rolling, it all starts with getting Fitzgerald involved early and often.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For 53 minutes, the hype was just that. Hype.

The Arizona Cardinals had talked all offseason about how this year's offense was leaps and bounds ahead of last season's. At one point leading up to Monday night's 18-17 win against San Diego, coach Bruce Arians compared the difference between 2013 and 2014 to an eighth grader sitting in a first-grade classroom.

But when the Cardinals unveiled their new-model offense, the engine barely revved. Until the winning drive late in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Carson Palmer finally kicked it into gear.

“It was the first game,” wide receiver Michael Floyd said. “It’s ups and downs. We knew that there’s going to be some bad series, some good series. We want more of the good and I think we stepped up great knowing that when they came out in the second half and scored, some offenses can just lay down like that.”

After San Diego’s Philip Rivers missed a snap from former Cardinal Rich Ohrnberger, forcing the Chargers to punt on fourth-and-22 from the Cardinals 43, Arizona came to life.

The Cardinals went 91 yards in 4 minutes, 25 seconds with Palmer using six different options -- in addition to his own two legs -- to orchestrate a drive that displayed the deep cache of weapons the Cardinals have been raving about for months.

“When you get into tight situations we know we got a receiving corps that can make plays,” Ted Ginn said. “That’s all that really mattered when we get into a dog fight like that. We know that one of the guys is going to come through and make a play, and it kinda happened today on that last drive. I believe everybody had some type of ball on that drive to keep it going, no matter if it’s first, second, third or fourth. That’s just our biggest thing: to be ready anytime.”

Palmer hit Ginn once for 4 yards, Floyd twice for 25 yards, Larry Fitzgerald once for 22 and then rookie John Brown for 13 yards on a screen pass that he turned into the winning touchdown.

“That’s what [Brown] does,” Palmer said. “He’s so shifty. It’s like somebody is controlling him with a joystick.”

Andre Ellington, who was questionable for Monday’s game because of a foot injury, added to the drive with an 18-yard run on second-and-1 and Jonathan Dwyer had one run for a yard. Palmer had the most critical run of the drive -- and maybe the game -- when he scrambled for 12 yards to convert a third down and keep the drive alive.

Despite the struggles that encompassed the first 53 minutes, the drive showed off how many options the Cardinals have added since last season.

“We’re capable of that, yes,” Arians said. “We were struggling to hear some at home, which has become a problem sometimes. We had some false starts. But that last drive was something we’re capable of doing.”

One reason it worked was because it included Palmer’s four primary receiving options -- one of which wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. For the first time in his career, Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. Fitzgerald’s first recorded target was a running play gone wrong that led to a throw-away pass in his direction. Palmer went to Fitzgerald again to start the winning drive and again two plays after he caught the 22-yarder.

Those were all the yards Fitzgerald finished with, but they put the Cardinals inside San Diego territory. Through it all, Fitzgerald didn’t complain, Palmer said. He actually told Palmer to start running behind him.

“It was just kind of one of those games where he just doesn’t get a bunch of touches but has one of the biggest plays of the game,” Palmer said.

“Larry just comes up with big plays when we need them, like he did on that one.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – A day after getting an MRI on his left foot, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington did not practice Friday, according to the team’s official injury report.

He was limited Thursday.

Also missing practice, for the second straight day, was linebacker Alex Okafor (thigh).

Guard Jonathan Cooper (toe), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), linebacker Kevin Minter (chest) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (back) were all listed as fully practicing.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Second-year running back Andre Ellington highlighted the Arizona Cardinals' first injury report of the season.

He was listed as limited because of his foot in Thursday's report.

Linebacker Alex Okafor did not practice because of a thigh injury. He was on the stationary bike Thursday during the open portion of practice. He missed the final 13 weeks of last season because of a torn biceps.

Also on the injury report were G Jonathan Cooper (toe), WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), S Tyrann Mathieu (knee), LB Kevin Minter (chest) and DT Frostee Rucker (back). All were listed as full practice participants.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley has a new job and it just happens to be with Arizona's Week 1 opponent.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way, the Cardinals will have to protect themselves from Lindley's intimate and deep well of knowledge of their playbook, which he had to turn in after being cut on Aug. 26. He was signed to the Chargers' practice squad Sunday after spending about 20 months in Arians' system.

"It's definitely going to put a little wrinkle in our operation, I would say, because as a quarterback he knows everything that's going on," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "It's one thing to know it and another thing to stop it and know when it's coming.

"I don't think we're going to deviate from the plan much."

Quarterback Carson Palmer sided with Fitzgerald. Not a lot will change, mostly because the Cardinals' playbook is so deep, Palmer said. But once Arizona starts prepping for San Diego, it'll change the code words and a few other small nuances that Lindley would know.

"It's totally different when a quarterback goes," Arians said. "That hasn't happened very often."

While Arizona's signing of former San Diego linebacker Thomas Keiser appears to be an act of gamesmanship, Arians assured that it wasn't. The Cardinals need help with their pass rush more than they need a few secrets about the Chargers.

Even so, Keiser said Tuesday that the Cardinals' coaches haven't debriefed him on his former team. If and when they do, it may not help that much, Arians said.

"I think Ryan probably knows a whole lot more about both sides of the ball than Tom does," Arians said. "He knows how to rush the passer. I don't know what he's going to tell me about Philip's (Rivers) offense, but Ryan does know a lot about both sides of the ball."

Monday will be a rare meeting for both teams, since they played in the preseason finale on Thursday. But Arians said he couldn't glean anything from that game, which turned into an ugly tryout between third stringers on both sides.

Lindley, who was released by then, never took a snap under Arians, watching behind backup Drew Stanton as Palmer played in all 16 games in 2013. But with two training camps in Arizona's offense, Lindley has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of it. He also knows the intricacies of a very complex scheme.

Having a former teammate -- and a recent one at that -- take a wealth of information to another team is always dangerous and it'll help the Chargers in some regard, Palmer believes, but Arizona can't veer from its course because of Lindley.

"We do a lot so it's tough to get a beat on exactly what we're trying to do in a certain formation or a certain personnel group," Palmer said. "We're on the offense and Bruce is of the mindset that you play offense, you don't play defensively offensively. We are going to attack and we are going to do what we do and they have to counter.

"They might have a beat on a thing here or there but we have to stick with our rules and stick with what we have been doing and what we have been working on and we will be fine."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was going to overthrow receiver Michael Floyd in the end zone and have a miscommunication with Larry Fitzgerald lead to an interception returned for a touchdown, Sunday night in front of a national TV audience was the time for it.

That's what preseason is about, working out the kinks, figuring out what went wrong and why it happened. Arizona will spend the next few days breaking down the film of their 19-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, figuring out where its offense went.

"We had a number of things that were just off, from overthrows to missed opportunities," Palmer said. "Some funky things that happened on some routes, some drops. We didn't take advantage of some of the looks we had.

"We're just a little bit off and that's not what we wanted to do. That's not what we expected at all."

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Terence Newman
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty ImagesTerence Newman returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinals.
The first-team offense's sluggish start was unexpected considering how efficient the Cardinals have looked during the first two preseason games. Arizona had scored on its two opening drives this year, but the Cards' first drive Sunday stalled at the Bengals' 37 after three straight incomplete passes, including two straight to Floyd.

The first bounced off his hands. And on the second, a miscommunication by Cincinnati's defense led to Floyd running nearly the exact same route wide open, but Palmer overthrew him.

"Every single series isn't going to go how you want it to go," Floyd said. "You got to get to the sideline and talk about it and move to the next play."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was concerned with missing a wide-open touchdown, especially one that would've given Arizona a 7-0 lead on its opening drive.

"It's hard for a quarterback to believe they blew a coverage and that there's not somebody coming," Arians said. "So you just throw it on out there and we picked up the blitz perfectly.

"They broke the coverage and Mike was wide open and we throw an easy touchdown, which gets us off to a totally different ballgame, 7-0."

On Arizona's next series, Palmer looked to Fitzgerald on an inside route, but Fitzgerald never broke stride and didn't make his cut. It was too late by time he looked to his left and saw Bengals cornerback Terence Newman intercepting Palmer and returning it 54 yards for a touchdown.

Fitzgerald was supposed to cut in front of Newman, Arians said.

"Those things you learn from and move on, but they shouldn't happen this time in camp," Arians said.

From there, the Cardinals' first-team offense looked more like its early 2013 version than the revamped edition unveiled throughout training camp. Arizona converted just 3-of-13 third downs and ran for 82 yards. The offense mustered just three points in the first half on a Jay Feely field goal early in the second quarter. And Palmer, who finished 7-for-19 for 92 yards, nearly threw two more picks but they were dropped by the Bengals' defense.

Sunday wasn't an anomaly, but it wasn't a reason for Arians to be overly concerned. If the Cardinals had been making those mistakes and looking sluggish on offense for the past three weeks, then Arians would've been ready to worry with two weeks until the season opener.

But there were some parts of Sunday's first half that Palmer was glad happened. He wants them to be addressed in the next couple of days, fixed and put behind them so they can continue being the efficient offense that was on display against Houston and Minnesota.

"This offense has the potential of being a truly prolific offense with the dynamic weapons that we have at our disposal," Fitzgerald said. "Every single week, we have to be taking a step in the right direction and I don't know if we did that today, more of a lateral step.

"We left some plays on the field and obviously we need to get that corrected before, so to speak, the real bullets start flying."

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Arizona’s first day of training camp provided a few highlight-worthy moments for fans but it finished without any major newsworthy events. The practice appeared to be injury free but we’ll know more Sunday morning when Cardinals coach Bruce Arians addresses the media. Watching camp this year will be like watching a Pro Bowl practices with the likes of cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson matching up against receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Throughout Saturday, Cromartie showed no signs of a hip flexor injury, running stride for stride with Fitzgerald and denying the eight-time Pro Bowler a few catches. Saturday still featured its share of Fitzgerald catches.
  • During the first two days of media availability, offensive players have raved about how they feel “light years” ahead of last year. It showed throughout practice. Routes were clean and crisp, and quarterback Carson Palmer was hitting receivers in stride. On a few occasions, he gave individual direction before snapping the ball. There were also minimal interruptions by Arians and other coaches, a sign that the offense was executing at a higher level.
  • When safety Tyrann Mathieu emerged from the bowels of University of Phoenix Stadium, where he was going through a rehab workout, and walked onto the field about an hour into practice, the crowd gave its bigger cheer of the afternoon. The Honey Badger acknowledged it with a wave.
  • Right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Paul Fanaika spent the entire practice working with the first team. Sunday will tell if Arians plans on rotating in Bradley Sowell at tackle and Earl Watford at guard, giving them both reps with the starters. Both lined up with the second team Saturday.
  • It was only Day 1 but some of the rookies looked like rookies in their first training camp practice. Logan Thomas began the day working ahead of Ryan Lindley as the second-string quarterback. Throughout the course of the day his accuracy declined, as some passes hit the ground short of the receiver toward the end of practice while others sailed high. The velocity on some of Thomas' passes at times was too much for some receivers to handle.
The Arizona Cardinals' biggest key to success for the next three seasons can be summed up in one word: offense.

How the Cardinals can adapt and adjust on the offensive side of the ball will determine whether they continue to build on the foundation that coach Bruce Arians laid in 2013 or whether they regress back to the state of mediocrity.

The first step to being successful over the next three seasons is finding a long-term solution at quarterback. Current starter Carson Palmer is entering the final year of his contract because his third season voids if he remains on the roster five days after the Super Bowl. A young, steady, productive quarterback is needed to take over this team, and the question then becomes is Logan Thomas that guy? The Cardinals also need to solidify the right side of the offensive line, like they did the left side by signing tackle Jared Veldheer and drafting guard Jonathan Cooper.

Stability up front can make the offense run despite rough conditions behind it. In three years, the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd might not be wearing Cardinal red anymore. Fitzgerald is coming up on the end of his career in the next few years, and Floyd might be a free agent in the next two. The Cardinals will need to make Floyd their next No. 1 receiver and build around him to remain successful.

Running back and tight end are the two positions that are young and feature players poised to be around for the next few seasons, but, in order for the Cards to be successful through 2016, the rest of the offense needs to be stabilized and shored up.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Darnell Dockett stood in the middle of the free weight section of the Arizona Cardinals' weight room Thursday looking the part of a team leader.

He was next to speak to the media, humbly waiting in the shadows while Michael Floyd talked about working out and what the Cardinals could build on in 2014.

When Dockett stepped in front of the cameras, he proved that behind him are the days of immaturity that led him to work out on his own, leaving his teammates back in Tempe. But he showed how he learned from his mistakes. And with the fourth quarter of his career approaching, Dockett better understands the need to develop chemistry as a team -- especially this year's Cardinals, who are on the cusp of breaking a four-year playoff drought.

[+] EnlargeDarnell Dockett
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinDarnell Dockett stressed the importance of offseason bonding during interviews with reporters.
When Dockett stayed home to work out, the Cardinals continued to lose. Coincidence or not, hindsight is crystal clear to Dockett.

"I've realized that over the years you have to bond with your guys in the offseason," Dockett said. "It's very important. We got a few guys that are not here that I'm texting them every day. I don't care what they say I'm literally going to blow their text messages up. We need you here.

"We're trying to do something important here."

That starts in April, long before the lights in University of Phoenix Stadium flicker on and the pyrotechnics welcome the Cardinals on to the field. Arizona is in the first week of its voluntary offseason strength and conditioning program and the response from team has been well received. Dockett estimated that the attendance rate is somewhere around 94 percent.

But guys aren't just showing up to collect their workout bonuses.

They're asking questions in meetings. The young players are using the veterans as resources. More younger players are going to Dockett for advice. He's telling them to take care of their body on and off the field.

And even the veterans are benefiting.

"It was great to go into the classroom and see some notes and some cutouts that I was actually familiar with," Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald told ESPN. "[Last year] was like learning Chinese. So coming in and having some familiarity with everything, it's been fun."

Late morning on Thursday, two groups of Cardinals alternated between the weight room and field conditioning. Although their focus is weights and running, they're spending their time learning about each other, talking about each other's families, for example.

The chemistry that will get Arizona past Seattle and San Francisco in December isn't developed in September or October, Dockett has learned.

"If you don't have it in the offseason, you're not going to have it in training camp. You're not going to have it in the season," Dockett said. "[Showing up] right now is just as important as showing up for the first game of the season.

"This is where you win your championship at. In a couple weeks we'll get 20, 30 more guys in from the draft and free agents. Right now, the foundation of this team is in the locker room and we've got a long way to go. Each and every day we have to capitalize and not take it for granted."

Just as he found out what it takes to become a better teammate, Dockett is learning -- on the fly, no less -- how to be a better leader. But in true leadership fashion, he's giving credit to his teammates for making his role easier.

"I say we got a lot of guys here that are enthusiastic to work," he said. "When you have that it's easier for me. It's easier for me to lead when guys just want to work. I don't have to say nothing. We're a long way from where we want to go as far as conditioning, strength and stuff like that.

"The best thing about it? We're here every day. We're going to every day. We not going to take no days off."
Larry Fitzgerald may be 30 years old, but that doesn't mean he's not as sure-handed as ever.

Larry Fitzgerald
Pro Football Focus computed the drop rates for wide receivers, tight ends and running backs this week and it should be no surprise who had the lowest rate for all receivers.

That's right.

Larry Fitzgerald dropped just one of 83 catchable balls, according to PFF, giving him a drop rate of 1.2. For comparison, the next closest is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, whose drop rate was 1.89. But the difference was that Fitzgerald caught 30 more passes than Hopkins.

Overall, Fitzgerald's 2013 was an improvement over 2012 even though he failed to hit 1,000 yards for the second straight year -- although his 10 touchdowns were his first double-digit haul since 2009.

But one area Fitzgerald has remained consistent in is his efficiency. He has 19 drops in the past five seasons, according to PFF.

Also in the top 15 last season was former Cardinals' receiver Andre Roberts, who had a drop rate of 4.4, letting two of 45 catchable passes hit the ground.

When it came to tight ends, Rob Housler's struggles last season dropped him to the bottom 15 of drop rates. He tied for 31st out of 36 tight ends, dropping five of 44 catchable passes for a rate of 11.36. One of the Cardinals' free-agent additions, tight end John Carlson, had the fourth lowest drop rate among his position. He let one of 33 catchable passes hit the ground for a rate of 3.03.

If the Cardinals want Andre Ellington to take on a larger receiving role, they might want him to learn a thing or two from Fitzgerald. He had the fourth-highest drop rate among running backs, letting six of 45 catchable passes (13.33) hit the ground.

The good thing for Housler and Ellington is they have a pretty good teammate to learn from.
Frostee Rucker has been turning heads since he was in high school in Southern California.

That's when his unique first name started making waves as he became a high school football star. His name again turned heads in early February.

When Larry Fitzgerald was making his rounds through Radio Row at the Super Bowl, he was constantly asked about whether he was open to restructuring his mega contract in order to give the Cardinals breathing room with their cap space -- we all know he restructured two days after the Super Bowl. But what was interesting was that in Fitzgerald's response to those questions, he always mentioned that by restructuring, he would help the Cardinals re-sign veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby, young Patrick Peterson ... and Rucker.

Yes, Fitzgerald believed that by restructuring, the Cardinals could bring back a 30-year-old backup defensive end who had just 14 tackles and an interception in 343 snaps. It clearly wasn't because of his stats.

Indeed, it wasn't.

Fitzgerald has been so adamant about the Cardinals having room to re-sign Rucker because of his reputation and presence in the locker room.

"Some guys have gaudy numbers," Fitzgerald said. "I know his numbers weren't crazy high. In terms of locker room guy, you can't ask for a better teammate. He busts his ass every day.

"He's not cliquey. He has a personality that meshes with everybody. You can't have enough glue guys in the locker room.

"[If there are issues in the locker room] he's a guy that will address it. Those guys are so valuable to your team. He's been great in our locker room. I think he's very important. I don't know what the Cardinals' views are. I'm just speaking of me personally."