FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Larry Fitzgerald, 33 and in his 13th NFL season, has 31 catches, 361 yards and five touchdown receptions through five games — the same number of touchdowns as the entire Jets team.
But when you listen to NFL people discuss the Cardinals receiver, it quickly becomes evident that he is more than merely a still-productive wideout for a man his age. He is among the most respected players in the NFL on and off the field.
Asked Friday to tell a Fitzgerald story, Jets coach and former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles smiled and said: “I don’t have any bad ones. Larry’s one of those guys who you look up his past and everything else and it looks squeaky clean — as far as I know. Larry’s been nothing but great to me . . . He’s a very giving person off the field.
“He’s very respectful, a very competitive guy on the field, works at it, very intelligent. Him and Brandon [Marshall] are similar that way. But I don’t have anything bad to say about Larry.”
Nor did anyone else in the facility as the Jets and their oft-burned secondary prepared to deal with a second consecutive elite receiver challenge (the Steelers’ Antonio Brown was the first).
Darrelle Revis, like Fitzgerald a former Pitt player, hopes to assist in the cause. He practiced on a limited basis Friday and was pleased with the progress of the hamstring injury that kept him out last weekend. “Following his career and actually matching up against him a few times, he’s a Hall of Famer in my book,” Revis said. “He’s reached every pinnacle you can as a receiver and he’s always been consistent. He’s a guy that — no disrespect to [quarterback] Carson Palmer — but he’s been there for a long time. He’s the guy in that offense that makes them run.”
Said cornerback Buster Skrine: “Very crafty. He knows how to get open. And he knows he’s a bigger receiver, so if he gets you a little bit, he’ll outreach you for the ball. He’s got great hands. A lot of time you see people draped all over him and he still makes the catch.”
Asked to name the best technicians and route runners he has seen at the position, Skrine named Fitzgerald and Brown. Then he said of the former, “I think he’s top five.”
The Cardinals have a chart illustrating where Fitzgerald stacks up after 191 career games against receivers currently in Canton. Let’s just say he’s a lock. But the Jets’ more immediate concern — and assumption — is that Palmer, Fitzgerald and their coaches have studied the Jets’ first five games and will test them deep.
“They’re going to attack downfield,” Revis said. “We understand that as a secondary and as a defense. Teams have been doing it, so we’re definitely aware of that.”
Skrine said of the secondary, “One step at a time. We definitely want to pick this thing up on the back end. We haven’t lived up to our expectations so far.”
Is Skrine confident they still are up to another tough task? “Yeah, we’re still confident,” he said. Why? “Because we’re defensive backs. You can’t play defensive back and not be confident.”
Notes & quotes: LB David Harris (hamstring), who has started 121 consecutive regular-season games, did not practice. He said he is optimistic he will play Monday night, but he said he never has had a hamstring injury before . . . C Nick Mangold (knee) practiced on a limited basis . . . Bowles said the team must provide more consistent running lanes for Matt Forte to get the ground game going.