2003 NFL Preview

Red alert

Smith quickly adjusting to new color scheme

Posted: Saturday July 26, 2003 6:58 PM
Updated: Saturday July 26, 2003 7:08 PM
  Emmitt Smith Emmitt Smith eyes a pass during the Cardinals' Saturday afternoon workout in Flagstaff, Ariz. AP

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The crowd was dotted with No. 22 jerseys, many in newly minted Cardinal red, a few in the familiar Cowboy silver and blue, as Emmitt Smith went through his first training camp workout with Arizona on Saturday.

"The only thing that's changed on me has been the helmet color, the jersey color, the shoe color, and the pants color," he said. "Football is football."

No one has carried a football for more yards in NFL history than Smith, and after 14 years and three Super Bowl rings with Dallas, he finds himself the centerpiece of a Cardinal franchise with one playoff victory in 55 years.

When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones let Smith walk away, the Cardinals signed the 34-year-old future Hall of Famer to a two-year deal worth $7 million to $8 million.

The signing was more than just a public relations move. The Cardinals promised Smith he will be Arizona's No. 1 back, and he is being counted on to be a big influence on his teammates.

"No. 22 is pretty sweet," coach Dave McGinnis said. "Just to see him interact with these players, even when he's not in there, to see him talking with Pete [Kendall] and the offensive linemen, to see him talking with the young receivers.

"`I mean, guys, Emmitt Smith is Emmitt Smith for a reason, and I love the reasons."

About 1,500 fans watched the workouts, not much larger than usual, but there was no doubt who most of them were there to see.

"There he is," one said.

"Yeah, and look at all of these Emmitt jerseys," another responded.

After the practice, dozens crowded around Smith for autographs.

He said the practice fields, surrounded by pine trees on the edge of the Northern Arizona University campus with the San Francisco Peaks in the background, is far more scenic than what he was used to in the Cowboys' old camp in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"Now Wichita Falls was nice, don't get me wrong," he said. "But look behind me there, it's like a postcard."

The 7,000-foot elevation, though, will take some getting used to.

"Oh, man, it will shorten your breath down quick, especially when you're not accustomed to it," Smith said. "My first four plays felt like I ran almost 17 100-yard dashes, and I probably didn't go no farther than 20 yards. I'm serious, altitude has its effect."

He liked what he saw of a big line that features 6-foot-6, 384-pound guard Leonard Davis.

"Today was the first time I got to work with some of my offensive linemen, and it's a big difference," Smith said. "I'm tell you, it makes a big difference when you've got guys that can move people. Today is just day one. The key thing we've got to do is try to keep those guys healthy, continue to give the defense a good look and try to get our offense better on a daily basis."

Smith limped a bit after getting stepped on during the workout, but shrugged it off. He and his coach said it was no big deal.

"I asked him how many times he's been stepped on," McGinnis said. "He said, '28,000,' so he's all right."

Smith praised backup Marcel Shipp and said he was good enough to start. He said he's showing Shipp and the other young backs how to be patient before hitting the running lanes.

"Me, being in it for a while, I don't know if I'm just slow or just patient," he said, joking. "It could be slowness for me, and those guys are probably interpreting it as patience."

The Cardinals will work out for 18 days in Flagstaff. They'll take a break for their preseason opener at home against none other than the Cowboys on Aug. 9. Anything special about that one?

"No, it's just a preseason game," Smith said.

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