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Keeping Larry Fitzgerald healthy is next on Cardinals' agenda

TEMPE, Ariz. -- With Larry Fitzgerald's new contract out of the way, the focus now shifts to what kind of 2015 he’ll have after coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie year.

But how well Fitzgerald plays next season will in part depend on how well he can avoid injuries.

“The big thing for Larry is we've got to keep him healthy,” Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said at the NFL combine Thursday.

Fitzgerald was hampered by nagging injuries the past two seasons. In 2013, it was his hamstring. In 2014, it was his MCL, which was aggravated in the preseason against Cincinnati and again in Week 11 against Detroit.

Fitzgerald returned in Week 14 and collected 157 yards but no touchdowns over the final four regular-season games and the wild-card loss to Carolina.

“He’s a warrior so he’s going to continue playing through the injury,” Arians said. “If we can keep him healthy, he should have a big-time year.”

Fitzgerald reached the 1,000-yard mark since 2011, but had 954 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.

Last year’s injuries were a major blow, Arians said, because he was playing at a “very high level” before getting hurt.

“He was as healthy and as fast as I’ve seen him this year in training camp,” Arians said on SiriusXM NFL Radio from the combine Thursday. “We got to keep him healthy this year and he can put the numbers up that we all hope he can.”

Fitzgerald’s role has evolved since Arians was hired in 2013. He’s blocking more -- as well as former Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward, Arians said -- and isn’t used as a deep threat. During Fitzgerald’s exit interview, Arians and he discussed Fitzgerald’s 2014 and what they expect from him this year.

“He plays wide receiver and we’re going to throw him the damn ball,” Arians said.

A healthy Fitzgerald can be a productive Fitzgerald. He’s only missed five games in his career, two coming last season.

With a freshly agreed-upon contract worth a reported $11 million guaranteed per season for the next two years, the expectations will again be placed on Fitzgerald’s shoulders. Arians is quite happy he'll be able to do that this season.

He’ll be even happier if the face of the Cardinals could stay healthy in 2015.

“He’s more than the face of the franchise,” Arians said. “He’s really the heartbeat of the organization because he’s put so much into it. You never want to see him in another colored jersey.”