“New system, new coaching staff, definitely a lot of changes,” Fitzgerald said. “That gets you more excited.”
Fitzgerald joined the rest of the Cardinals bright and early Monday morning for the first padded practice of camp. It may be his 15th training camp, but Fitzgerald still appreciates a big play. When teammate D.J. Humphries stymied a rushing defender in a one-on-one drill, Fitzgerald jumped on his back to celebrate.
An 11-time Pro Bowler, Fitzgerald has posted three straight seasons of 100-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards and still goes about his business with a bounce in his step.
The Cardinals made a lot of changes during the offseason, from hiring a new coaching staff to getting a new starting quarterback. Amid all of it, at 34, Fitzgerald remains a constant. And despite ongoing questions about how much longer he will play, Fitzgerald said he still has a desire to learn and improve.
“There’s retirement and there’s being retired,” he said. “Most guys get retired; they tell you it’s time for you to go to pasture and you’ve got to figure it out when they give you your apple and your road map.”
Fitzgerald has a road map. He’s long been active during the offseason in setting up a place for himself when football is over.
“For the past 10 years I’ve been doing internships and things to kind of prepare myself, figure out what I’m interested in and what I want to do as I transition out,” Fitzgerald said.
For example, he could find a role in the Cardinals' front office.
For now, Fitzgerald is set to be the No. 1 wide receiver in the Arizona offense. With Jaron Brown and John Brown gone, the Cardinals are evaluating second-year receiver Chad Williams, rookie Christian Kirk and Greg Little, who has been out of the NFL since 2014. They also signed Brice Butler away from the Cowboys in free agency.
“This is the first camp I’ve been to in a long time where it’s just a lot of uncertainty in terms of where everybody’s going to be,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s really exciting, to see guys fight for their livelihood and fight for every rep, every opportunity.”
Cardinals coach Steve Wilks was asked if coaching and being around Fitzgerald has given him a different level of admiration for the receiver.
“Not really, because you can see from afar everything he’s done in his career. Coming here and being around him, OK, it’s no surprise,” Wilks said. “He’s a pro’s pro. Just glad to have him. A leader and a force in that locker room.”