Best-case scenario: backup role

Updated: November 20, 2003, 7:21 PM ET
Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals upgraded Emmitt Smith to questionable for Sunday's game against St. Louis after the NFL's career rushing leader went through a second day of practice Thursday.

"I'm getting back healthy and feeling pretty good about where I'm at," Smith said, "and I look forward to getting back on the football field."

Smith has been out since breaking his left shoulder blade against the Cowboys on Oct. 5. Thursday's practice was his first in full pads since the injury.

"I had the shoulder pads on, got banged around a little bit," he said. "I feel like my condition is not too bad. Of course I need to get a lot more game kind of reps to really assess where I'm at, but I feel pretty good."

Coach Dave McGinnis said after the practice that he decided to upgrade Smith from doubtful.

"That means 50-50, that's pretty good odds, isn't it?" McGinnis said. "He's come along. He's right on schedule for where he needs to be."

Smith said he's ready to come back, at least for now, as the backup to Marcel Shipp, who is banged up and hasn't practiced all week after getting a total of 95 carries the last four weeks.

"It takes its toll. Nobody understands that better than me," Smith said. "When you've got 4,000 carries you know what it's like, so I empathize with him big-time. I was brought here to be a starter but if I don't have to be a starter and back him up right now just to get myself back into the flow of it, I'm all for it."

Shipp, who had consecutive 100-yard rushing games in victories over San Francisco and Cincinnati while Smith was out, had fluid drained from his right arm earlier this week. He said the arm felt much better Thursday and there was no doubt he would play on Sunday.

Still, Shipp probably couldn't withstand a 35-carry game like he had against San Francisco.

"We need everybody we can get," quarterback Jeff Blake said of Smith's possible return. "We need as much help as we can. The more veteran experience that we have out there, the better for our team as an offense. We're just glad to have him back when he's ready to come back."

Shipp said he appreciated Smith's willingness to come back as a backup.

"It says a lot. I'm honored that he feels that way," Shipp said. "Whatever it takes to get a win for this ball club, I'm sure we both would be happy with it."

Smith said he's tried to stay involved, working out at the practice facility, accompanying the team on road trips, working the sidelines during games and talking with Shipp. He was there last Sunday when the Cardinals were awful in a 44-6 loss at Cleveland.

"I was surprised. I really was surprised," he said. "I thought we were prepared. I thought we were ready to play."

He has heard and read the speculation that McGinnis' job is in jeopardy, and he repeated his support of the coach.

"I love coach Mac. He's a good coach," Smith said. "Unfortunately, our play has not been up to par to the quality of coach that he is."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press