Cardinals More Than Larry Fitzgerald
By Joe Darrah
For good reason, most of the buzz that continues to swirl around what has been an impressive, exciting preseason for the Cardinals’ first-string offense is related to how explosive the unit can be with the hookup of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. (Apologies to a defensive unit that has buzz-worthy playmakers of its own, particularly in a backfield that ranked second in the league in interceptions last season.) While the offense has also upgraded on paper at running back with Rashard Mendenhall, injury concerns for both he and Palmer will persist until they prove they can stay healthy.
That said, sustained success this season is likely to be determined not just by Palmer’s rebirth and Fitzgerald’s potential resurgence, but by his fellow wideouts — a group that includes familiar names in Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. There had been hope to rejuvenate former Lions wideout Mike Thomas and former Jaguar Charles Hawkins, but the duo didn't survive last Saturday's final cuts.
Then there’s tight end Rob Housler. He hasn’t had a promising preseason, but is expected to emerge as a frequent target in 2013. The third-year veteran out of Florida Atlantic hauled in more than 40 receptions during the desert’s Great Quarterback Carousel/Crisis, but suffered a high ankle sprain in the third preseason contest. Housler will be sidelined at least until Week 1 at St. Louis. His final exhibition line: three games, one catch, eight yards, one end-zone drop isn't the start anyone expected. Still, expectations remain high for him as part of a receiving corps that is expected to be aided by electrifying cornerback Patrick Peterson. According to new coach Bruce Arians, the dual-threat playmaker will see an established offensive role in 2013.
Floyd, a 2012 first-round draft selection that showed nice potential while pulling in 45 catches for 562 yards as a rookie, will have hefty expectations in a role where he’ll be leaned on to help open the field for Fitzgerald. Floyd has already shown a rapport with Palmer as he’s caught at least one ball in limited action each game in the preseason, including a touchdown grab in Arizona’s third game. Ditto Roberts, who led all receivers in yards in the last “real” exhibition with 42 yards on three catches and scored twice through the team’s first two games. Should he continue to excel, this receiving offense could very well be near the league’s elite.
That said, yes, it would be senseless to ignore the increased role that Fitzgerald should showcase after an essentially lost season in 2012. It was Fitzgerald's lowest yardage output (798) since his rookie season and the first campaign that he netted under 1,000 yards receiving since 2006 (13 games). Fitzgerald has hardly been bashful in his public praise and excitement related to Palmer. In about a week, that enthusiasm will have the chance to transform from verbal to literal.