Team Report: Arizona

Emmitt Smith stood in the bask of the spotlight in the auditorium of the Arizona Cardinals training facility at his introductory news conference Thursday, beaming, resplendent in black suit, crisp white shirt and red tie.

He looked anything but a broken down old war horse, which many around the NFL believe the league's career rushing leader has become.

While it is true one reason the Cardinals signed him is for his public relations value and ability to be a leader simply by walking into a locker room full of wide-eyed young players, Smith is highly motivated to show Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, and anyone else in doubt that he remains an effective football player.

Smith said his goal is to rush for between 1,200 and 1,300 yards as the starter for his new team, which signed him to a two-year contract believed to be worth $7.5 million.

Last season, Smith came within 25 yards of extending his NFL-record streak to 12 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. That was behind a bad Cowboys' line.

With the Cardinals, Smith will be running behind Leonard Davis, the second pick overall in the 2001 draft, massive Anthony Clement and veteran Pete Kendall. The Cardinals signed 265-pound fullback James Hodgins from the St. Louis Rams, who was Marshall Faulk's lead blocker for most of two seasons.

The Cardinals appear well equipped to run the ball and give Smith the chance to make his point. The team hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Adrian Murrell barely crossed the barrier in 1998, the last time the Cardinals reached the playoffs -- the only time they've reached them since they moved to Arizona in 1988.

Veteran quarterback Jeff Blake has been signed to replace Jake Plummer, who went to Denver as a free agent, but the Cardinals lack an experienced receiver to help take the load off the ground game since David Boston signed with San Diego and MarTay Jenkins signed with Atlanta.

Veteran receiver Frank Sanders still could re-sign, but he'd join a pool of neophyte wideouts: Bryan Gilmore, Jason McAddley, Kevin Kasper, Nate Poole. The team needs to replace Boston's speed and add an experienced receiver or Smith will see eight or nine defenders in the box every time he takes a handoff.

Smith recalled the growing pains of his early days with the Dallas Cowboys and said there are parallels as he attempts to help this franchise find respectability, just as he led the Cowboys back to it.

"When I got here, I looked at a lot of things and I understood that they had a lot of room under the cap," Smith said. "I felt like they were definitely taking steps in the right direction. Throughout the process there were a lot of teams that showed interest, but this team had a lot of passion behind it and motivation while pursuing me. It's nice to be in a situation where you are truly wanted."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had braced himself for Smith's move to another team. He said it won't be easy watching Smith wear another uniform.

"In my mind, I'll always see the star on Emmitt's helmet," Jones said. "I know after he finishes his career, there'll be the means for him to contribute to the Cowboys in some way."

Smith will be 34 in May. He is expected to be equal parts football player, mentor and box office attraction for a downtrodden organization.

"We're serious about putting together a good football team," Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill said. "We just wanted to be able to put a better product out on the field than we've been able to put out before."

Nobody had ever heard Bidwill make a pronouncement like that publicly.

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