Hard luck backs looking for one more team

Updated: August 4, 2004, 5:43 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Ki-Jana Carter and Lamar Smith expected a much different life in the NFL, but stardom was elusive.

Adversity was not.

Carter, the No. 1 pick in 1995 and Smith, a third-round pick in 1994, are both fighting for a backup role in the New Orleans running game and for one more year in the league.

"I never expected things to work out like this," Carter said Wednesday. "But I think I'm a better person because of the things that have happened to me, on and off the field."

Carter has been on four teams, missed two of the last eight season and has been on the injured reserve list four times. His career rushing yards are only 1,127, he's played just 57 games and started only 14.

"It was always just freak accidents," Carter said. "I blew my knee out, fractured my wrist, had an ACL, tore the tendons in my toe. I've always been in good condition. Things have just happened."

Smith's career has been marred by legal problems.

As a rookie with the Seahawks, Smith was driving when his car hit a pole and teammate Mike Frier broke his neck and was paralyzed below the waist. Smith pleaded guilty to vehicular assault, served 60 days in a work-release program and was ordered to give 35 to 50 percent of his NFL earnings to Frier over a seven-year period.

Smith started 11 games for the Carolina Panthers in 2002 and led the team with 737 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 209 carries. He was cut the next year after being arrested for drunk driving.

"I look back on my career and I survived it," Smith said. "I was a survivor. I faced my problems. I went through them and I came out the other side a better person."

Both backs landed with the Saints last season. Carter was in eight games before going on injured reserve. Smith replaced Carter after the injury.

"I'm set financially," Carter said. "But I love the game. I think I can still play at a high level and there are things I want to accomplish still."

Smith feels the same way. And both backs want to be part of a team now, more than they want to be stars and have accepted their roles as backups for Deuce McAllister.

"Everybody knows this is Deuce's team," Smith said. "That's OK. I want to play. I want to be part of this. I can back Deuce up, be a great reliever for him. I can catch the football when needed. I can block."

Both backs have been a pleasure to work with, running backs coach Dave Atkins said. He'd like to keep them both, but knows that won't happen.

"The one who makes it will have to understand his role with the team," Atkins said. "He has to understand it's Deuce's team. And he's going to have to be a special teams player. That's the life of a backup."

It's been about nine years since Smith played special teams. Last year Carter played on the kickoff team with the Saints.

"One thing you find out when you go back to special teams, everybody is faster and bigger," Smith said. "But if it's what you have to do to stick around, you do it."

Carter, the former Penn State star, said he will do whatever it takes to stick with the team.

"I'm not taking it one day at a time," Carter said. "I'm taking it one play at a time. That's what I have to do. Football means too much to me to miss this chance. This time of the year you complain about training camp, but it's where you want to be."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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