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Reflections on Steve Wilks’ First Mandatory Mini-Camp

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Minicamp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

These days, Larry Fitzgerald looks and sounds like a happy camper.

For one, his role in the offense is going to be more diversified, and with the addition of a fullback in the lineup, Fitz will do most of his blocking on CBs, and not as often on DEs and LBers.

Secondly, Steve Wilks has asked Fitz to take on a greater leadership role in the practices---something that Fitz has embraced. This is a wrinkle that has added a level of importance to Fitz’s role---which is making this year’s camp preparations more meaningful and enjoyable. You might recall that at this time last year Fitz was bemoaning what he called the “drudgery of training camp.”

What Fitz is also relishing is the skill level he is seeing from QBs Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen.

“Both (Sam and Josh) have done a great job…the way Josh has grasped everything…with Sam being kind of brought along slower this off-season what he’s been able to retain, how well he’s throwing the ball…it’s impressive to see a guy that young be able to do that. Everything you ever hear about Sam is true---about his accuracy and touch, his placement of the ball is extremely accurate, knowledgeable. So, from a physical standpoint both of them (Sam and Josh) are excellent.”

One crucial thing that Fitz is teaching all of his teammates is not to take anything for granted. As crazy at it might sound, Fitz says, “They are bringing in guys to take my job. That’s not lost on me ever and I’m fighting and competing just like everyone else is. That’s the mentality I had when I first walked into it and that’s the mentality I’ll have when I walk out the door.”

As to when Fitz is going to walk out that door, there has been recent speculation from the Arizona media that he could be interested in playing two or three more years. Some of the speculation is based on how impressed Fitz is with the current direction of the organization and the talent level he is now surrounded with,

When asked about this off-season, Fitz said, “It’s been great. It’s a wonderful staff, so many knowledgeable coaches. It has been fun learning the new system…the tempo of practices every day…the situational football we’ve been working on…we are preparing for every moment. I think the guys have responded well. It’s been a good off-season.”

When asked directly about his future, Fitz tempered his remarks with a caveat of sorts: “I’m just trying to get to February in one piece. As John Lott used to say, ‘I don’t buy green bananas’----I don’t have the time to watch them ripen, I’ve got to get them now.”

During Steve Wilks’ closing remarks yesterday he said that he was going to let the players keep their iPads so they could keep studying the playbook, because he trusts his guys to keep the info to themselves. He also emphasized to the players how important it is for them to keep up their conditioning---that training camp is not the place to get in shape---it’s the place to come to in shape so they can hit the ground running. Because, as Wilks said so befittingly, “Once we put the pads on that’s when guys will start to separate themselves.” Wilks added, “I am very excited to see what happens during the practices and the pre-season games.”

In essence, the Cardinals themselves right now are a 90-man bunch of green bananas. Steve Wilks wants his men to be deliciously ripe come July 27th.

As for Larry Fitzgerald and his leadership role in 2018, one may recall how the venerable Kurt Warner took a green team on his back and told them exactly how they needed to prepare for big, bright light games in the playoffs. This season could be Fitz’s turn to do the same.

What Steve Wilks appears to understand very well---it’s one thing for the players to get sage leadership from the coaches, but often the most valuable leadership comes from the players themselves.

From a planning standpoint, Wilks and his staff are turning up aces. They put a carefully designed plan in place to build up Sam Bradford’s strength and confidence. They have demanded and received a fast game speed type pace in practice each and every day. They have challenged the players to practice early in the morning in order to prepare down the road for 1 PM EDT games and have been doing so in 100 degree heat in order to get the players hard-edged or as Wilks puts it, “calloused.”

If there ever was a way to ripen green bananas with speed and alacrity---this is it. This is carpe diem in its purest form. Loosely translate the phrase diem mean ‘seize the day”---which is the crux of Steve Wilks’ pedagogy---but when one performs a closer translation of carpe diem, it means “pluck the moment when it is perfectly ripe” as in what 17th century poet Robert Herrick implored in his famous line: “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

If Steve Wilks and Larry Fitzgerald have their way, perhaps the title of this year’s season will be (with a bow to Robert Herrick): “To the Cardinals to Make Much of Time.”