PHOENIX — Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts volcano-surfed with mentor/buddy Larry Fitzgerald on their January excursion to South America. The two zip-lined through a Guatemalan rain forest and scuba-dived off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia. Wild times, sure.
But the most pertinent lesson from their relationship is in the mundane, Roberts said.
“The biggest thing I have picked up is just watching him work and seeing how he works every day, in the offseason as well,” Roberts said. “He is working like he is trying to make the team every year. When you work like that as a 10-year vet, you obviously are doing something right.”
It has rubbed off on Roberts, who had one of the best games of his four-year career with eight receptions for 97 yards in a 27-24 loss to St. Louis last Sunday. He turned four third-down catches into first downs, and while Pro-Bowler Fitzgerald had two touchdowns, Roberts would have received the game ball had the Cardinals won, coach Bruce Arians said.
Arians’ new offense, which necessitates all receivers learning all three primary receiving positions, did not seem to faze Roberts. His eight receptions, many after lining up in the slot, are the second-most in his four-year career. Michael Floyd has become a starter with Fitzgerald in regular sets, but the sometimes-overlooked Roberts seems capable of continuing to improve after a 2012 season in which he set career highs with 64 catches, 759 yards and five touchdowns.
His goal is to better his numbers — with team victories paramount — every year, and he has done that after being selected in the third round of the 2010 draft out of The Citadel, which produced former Cardinals Stump Mitchell and Greg Davis. After a rough first training camp, Roberts has continued to progress.
Arians likes to throw the ball, and Roberts, 5-foot-11 and 195, can catch it. Like the knob who is forced to get up at 6 a.m. every day his first year at the Citadel, Roberts can handle the inconveniences that come with running routes over the middle.
On his first catch Sunday, Roberts took a big blow from Cortland Finnegan while making a catch. Later in the half, Roberts was the victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit from safeties T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, a hit that is being scrutinized by the NFL office. Both times Roberts bounced right up. The same kind of spunk he showed in his first workout at the 2009 Senior Bowl when he caught a ball over the middle and took a lick from USC’s Taylor Mays. It is part of a game he plays with defenders.
“When you get hit hard, they expect you to lay down on the ground for a little while and get up slow,” Roberts said. “That hurts their confidence a little bit when you get up, if it hurt or not, or if it was a big hit or not. It kills their confidence more and more as the game goes on. Right back it. No satisfaction for those DBs.”
The game reinforced what Arians has seen since following Roberts at The Citadel.
“A grit and toughness I thought he had,” Arians said. “I thought he made every catch. If there ever was one point he’d drop one every now and then, he was outstanding in the ball game. Played fast. Played physical. He plays very well all places, but he is a solid slot receiver.
“I liked him coming out (of college). I thought he was going to be exactly the player he is right now. He’s a little more aggressive as a blocker than I thought he would be. He is a a very bright young man, too.”
Carson Palmer targeted Roberts nine times, and they connected eight. Because opponents try to double-team Fitzgerald to take him out of a game, as they did much of last season, contributions from Roberts and Floyd become even more necessary.
“Any one of those guys is one-on-one, they have to win” their matchup, Palmer said. “That’s the mentality they have to have. Somebody is going to get doubled at some point, and we have a pretty good idea who it is going to be most of the time.”
Although the two have spent only a few months together, Palmer got a good feel for Roberts while watching him on tape over the summer.
“He did exactly what I expected him to do,” Palmer said. “When the ball is thrown to him, he has a knack for making plays. He is one of those guys that when the lights are turned on, he shows up. I saw it watching all his film from last year.
“He’s learning from the best. He’s been around one of the best for a long time. He’s a different style of receiver (than Fitzgerald), but he tried to take on Larry’s style of game where he is always using his hands and using his body to protect the ball. He made a couple of catches when he was pass-interfered with and a lot of guys wouldn’t. Andre’s as tough as they come.”