GLENDALE, Ariz. — The 2008 NFL season was most memorable for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald because he made it to his first and only Super Bowl. But there was another milestone Fitzgerald remembers vividly from that season. The Cardinals had three receivers top the 1,000-yard barrier — Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.
Given the array of passing options available to quarterback Carson Palmer, that probably won’t happen this season, but Fitzgerald believes this receiving corps could be as deep or deeper than that season’s.
"I hate to compare groups because our team was so different then," Fitzgerald said. "But we’ve got a lot of really, really talented guys, top to bottom, and it’s fun to see because it pushes everybody."
Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are the unquestioned Nos. 1 and 2 receivers. But with speedsters Ted Ginn and John Brown taking the top off defenses (and presumably left tackle Jared Veldheer providing more time to throw), both Fitzgerald and Floyd could reach the 1,000-yard barrier this year (Floyd had 1,041 in 2013; Fitzgerald had 954).
With Jaron Brown, Walt Powell and Brittan Golden also showing well in camp and the first preseason game, the Cardinals have a dilemma on how many receivers to keep.
GM Steve Keim said Monday during his weekly radio appearance they could keep as many as six. That’s a far cry from last year when they kept four (Fitzgerald, Floyd, Andre Roberts and Jaron Brown), presuming cornerback Patrick Peterson was going to occupy all of the fifth-receiver reps.
"We will not cut a player at one position just to keep a player for depth," Arians said. "If he’s a better player, we’re going to keep the best players on the team."
Depth is always the goal at each position — both to cover for inevitable injuries and to provide versatility — but the Cardinals this year genuinely appear to have that luxury at receiver.
"They’re all physical and they’ll block," Arians said. "You’re not going to throw a few of them into the fray very often in the middle, but Mike and Jaron and Larry — even Britt — are all big guys who will block. And then we have an added element that we did not have last year and that’s the speed factor (of Ginn and John Brown)."
John Brown and Ginn both have had good camps and figure to hold down the No. 3 and 4 slots. Despite his rookie status out of a Division II school (Pittsburg State), no stage seems too big for John Brown.
"The speed is not faster here at all. I guess it’s because I’m fast so I’m used to playing fast," he said.
Beyond the speed receivers, the Cardinals have an interesting collection. Jaron Brown could make this team for his special teams work alone, but has progressed as a receiver in his second year.
Powell was the team’s sixth-round pick for his fearlessness over the middle and a quick burst. He is a candidate for the practice squad, but another team could claim him if it places him on its 53-man roster. Golden is another speedster who led the team in receptions on Saturday with seven catches on seven targets.
Keim’s comments could prove true, though it is more likely the Cardinals will keep five receivers. Special teams impact will play a major role in the final decision, but so will the next three preseason games and each remaining training camp practice.
"You’d better not have a bad day," Arians said, chuckling. "One bad day could cost you your job."