Kyler Murray has Larry Fitzgerald off to the best start of his career

NFL

TEMPE, Ariz. — Kyler Murray’s transition to the NFL has been made easier by a few factors.

The quarterback was drafted by the coach he has known since he was 15.

He’s playing in the offense he has run since the eighth grade.

He’s throwing to a future Hall of Famer.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been an important resource for Murray since the Arizona Cardinals drafted the QB with the No. 1 overall pick in the spring. Fitzgerald sat with Murray during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp, and he has been even more crucial in the first two weeks of the season.

“I think every young quarterback needs a security blanket — him being that guy for me,” Murray said. “He knows what he’s seeing out there. He’s seen it a lot, and he can still run around. … I can count on him, and that helps me out a lot.”

It has been mutually beneficial. Fitzgerald has 100 yards in his first two games of the season for the first time in his 16-year career. His 217 receiving yards are his second most through two games, just shy of the 225 he had in 2005. In both games this season, Fitzgerald was Murray’s most targeted receiver, with 13 targets in Week 1 and 11 in Week 2.

Fitzgerald has tried to downplay his connection with Murray, but the results tell the story.

In Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, Murray hit Fitzgerald five times for 59 yards in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 18-point comeback. Fitzgerald’s 4-yard touchdown catch preceded the game-tying two-point conversion.

Murray looked Fitzgerald’s way on two long plays Sunday against the Ravens, one for 40 yards in the third quarter and another for 54 yards in the fourth. Each play put the Cardinals in position to score.

“He throws it to me in traffic and contested catches, and I’ll make plays for him,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, that’s how you build your confidence with your quarterback. And I remember developing that with Josh McCown and Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, all the guys that I played with. It’s just about getting out there on the practice field, them trusting you to make a play, you make the play, and then they say, ‘OK, I can fit this ball into some of the tight windows,’ and that’s how it develops.”

Fitzgerald’s 41-yard diving reception on third-and-14 early in the fourth quarter of Week 1 — with the Cardinals trailing 24-6 — spearheaded the team’s comeback. It was the perfect example of how the 36-year-old Fitzgerald can bail out the 22-year-old Murray when nothing else seems to be working.

“I think you saw that where he just launches it down the field to his outside shoulder, and he flips his head around and makes those catches,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the 41-yard grab. “That’s a security blanket that any young quarterback would love to have. When the game’s on the line there at the end, and you just get it close, and he makes a play.

“That’s huge to know that if I get it close to this guy, I’ve got a chance for him to come down with it.”

Fitzgerald is averaging just 2.3 yards of separation this season — tied for fourth lowest among receivers with at least 10 receptions — but has a team-best 13 catches. Murray doesn’t have to throw Fitzgerald open. He just needs to throw it in his zip code.

“He’s one of those guys that wherever you put him, he feels like he’s open,” Kingsbury said. “Even when the guy’s plastered right on him, he’s like, ‘Just throw it to me, and I’ll catch it.’ That’s what he does.”

Murray and Fitzgerald began developing a relationship soon after Murray was drafted. They gravitated toward each other, and Fitzgerald quickly became a mentor about football and life off the field. Fitzgerald talked to Murray about investing his money and how to spend it.

During the break between minicamp and training camp, Murray was part of throwing sessions organized by Fitzgerald, teammates said. Murray also joined the receivers, including Fitzgerald, for meals.

Once the Cardinals reunited for training camp in late July, Fitzgerald spent time working with Murray on the numerous hand signals that Kingsbury’s offense includes, with Fitzgerald telling Murray where he’d be at certain points of the route and Murray’s progressions.

The two talked often during training camp practices, each listening to the other. Fitzgerald would break down coverages and how defensive backs play certain leverages. He’d also explain what Murray should be thinking or doing at various points of the play.

“He knows so much about the game, and to be able to give that knowledge to Kyler only helps him increase his game,” backup quarterback Brett Hundley said.

Fitzgerald was a stickler this offseason for technique, with both Murray and others, fellow wide receiver Trent Sherfield said. But Fitzgerald’s primary objective with Murray leading up to September was to get on the same page and help Murray learn.

The two have done just that.

“He’s a great guy to talk to,” Murray said. “I’ve seen that very quickly learning from him. It’s just interesting how many years he’s been in it, how long he’s done it, how great he’s been. And just picking his brain for me, I’m lucky I got a whole season with him. Hopefully, you know, he plays more. But it’s great to have him in the locker room.”

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