Arizona Cardinals  

 

Cards banking on Kolb-to-Fitzgerald connection blossoming

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
The Cardinals are hoping Kevin Kolb (left) and Larry Fitzgerald can lead the offense for years to come.


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Larry Fitzgerald was less than 24 hours away from committing not only to the Cardinals for nearly the next decade, but also to Kevin Kolb for another five years or so.

And the results at Lambeau Field on Friday night made Saturday's decision by Fitzgerald -- to sign an eight-year contract with the Cardinals -- look more like a leap of faith than affirmation of what was actually happening.

Against the defending champion Packers, the $120-million-man-to-be was thrown to five times. Fitzgerald's final line showed one catch, albeit it was among the more spectacular you'll see, for 15 yards, and one pass-interference call drawn, good for another 18 yards.

Kolb-to-Fitzgerald remains very much a work-in-progress. It's not Montana-to-Rice yet, nor is it close to being what Warner-to-Fitzgerald was during a pretty dynamic two-year run for the Cardinals. But both players are intent on making this work. Fitzgerald's new contract, of course, is an acknowledgement of that.

"Playing the defending champs definitely gives us a good test of where we are as an offense, and I think we did a good job, moving the ball effectively," Fitzgerald told me after the game. "Obviously there's a lot of work that needs to be done still. (Kolb) is still learning the offense, we're still learning him. But I think the more aggressive we get, the better off we'll be and today was a step in the right direction."

Kolb agreed, saying, "We have to get better every single day. We missed some of that offseason work, but the great thing about Larry is he's so easy to have chemistry with because of his great playmaking ability. Like that ball I had tonight, I thought he was doing one thing, he was doing another, but he was able to make up for it with his great ability. It's not often that a quarterback has that kind of option. It's nice to have No. 11."

Two of the balls that went Fitzgerald's way against Green Bay were defensed and another fell incomplete and displayed the divide that the two have to bridge. But both guys firmly believe they're getting there.

As for the concept of "offseason work" that Kolb mentioned, he and Fitzgerald did get a bit of a head start. During the week MLB's All-Star Game was being held in Phoenix, the two quietly got together on Arizona State's suburban campus to work together. Did Kolb know he'd be a Cardinal? No. But both guys seemed to have an inkling of what might happen.

"It helped a lot for me," Kolb said. "I got to ask about some personnel and ask, 'What do y'all do?' And I got to know Larry a little bit as individual. I'm sure it was huge for him. too, because he got to see -- 'Well, he does have some ability.' And I got to show him what I like to do, what my type of game is, and it was similar to how they want to run their offense.

"I think it clarified both sides where we could say, 'Hey, we'd love to do this if it happens. We don't know, but we're hoping and praying.'"

As Fitzgerald described it, "I think he needed to see what he's working with, and I think he got a good assessment of that. And so when he came in, he wasn't wondering, 'Who is this guy and what does this guy do?' We had a week together just to understand what each other's strengths and weaknesses are and I think that helped."

For now, Kolb is trying to put one foot in front of the other. As much as Philadelphia invested in him -- taking the Houston product with the 36th pick in 2007, sinking three years into his development, and then trading the face of the franchise, Donovan McNabb, and turning to him -- Kolb knows his current situation carries as much, if not more responsibility. The Cardinals dealt a second-round pick and a Pro Bowl-level corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, for him, then handed Kolb a five-year, $62 million deal.

His job isn't to be Kurt Warner, of course. But it is to get the offense back to the level Warner had it.

"The encouraging thing is we have the base offense installed. Everything that's gonna be in is in, except for game-plan, week-to-week stuff," Kolb said. "So now I can let all that soak in, I can build on our core offense, that's gonna be huge for me. And as we grow as a unit, we can keep pushing and pushing, and tacking on. Our ultimate goal is to get back to where they were two years ago."

Certainly, getting $15 million per season didn't hurt, but Fitzgerald made it clear knowing who his quarterback would be was important coming off a tumultuous 2010 in which two nondescript rookies (Max Hall, John Skelton) started games for Arizona. As such, having Kolb aboard gave Fitzgerald some peace of mind in signing his deal.

"That has a lot to do with it. You want to know you're going to be with somebody who's going to help you reach your team goals," Fitzgerald said. "It's exciting. (Kolb) is 26 years old. He's only had seven starts, but he's won two NFC Player of the Weeks. And out of seven starts, that's pretty good. I think the future's extremely bright for him. I'm happy he's here. And he's definitely gonna help our ballclub."

Kolb admits there were nervous moments, where he thought his trade from Philly might be complicated by the lockout. "You just start wondering -- 'Man, is a team going to take the risk with so little time?'"

Fortunate for him, the Cardinals did. And as Kolb puts it, "Now we just gotta go win."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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