For now at least, old No. 22 is the new No. 1 guy on the depth chart. In a somewhat surprising move, coach Dennis Green concluded the Arizona
Cardinals' formal offseason conditioning schedule Thursday by announcing that NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith will go to camp as the No. 1
Three-year veteran Marcel Shipp, the Cardinals' leading rusher each of the last two seasons, and projected by most observers as the 2004 starter, has
been demoted to No. 2, Green announced. Green did not immediately explain his reasons for the switch.
A lot can happen, of course, to change the pecking order once the Cards report to camp Aug. 1. But for now, Smith is the starter, despite a dismal
2003 campaign that concluded with the future Hall of Famer playing behind the more productive Shipp and nursing a fractured scapula.
Earlier in the offseason, Green publicly lauded Shipp's play and predicted that he would enjoy a breakout 2004 season. Green set 1,000 rushing yards
and nine touchdowns as benchmarks for Shipp. At the same time, Green made it clear Smith would be a backup.
Even the prideful Smith, who some feared might plummet to No. 3 behind Shipp and second-year tailback Josh Scobey, acknowledged he might be relegated
to serving simply as a role player and tutor for younger players.
Green clearly changed his mind -- perhaps in an effort to motivate Shipp, an undrafted free agent in 2001 from the University of Massachusetts who has
always been a high-effort performer -- during the Cardinals' recent organized team practices.
Smith, 35, is entering the final season of the two-year, $7.5 million contract he signed last spring. Coming off the poorest season of his stellar
14-year NFL career, there was some speculation he would retire this spring. But Smith insisted that he would honor his contract and vowed he still had
some mileage left on his treads.
Playing in only 10 games last season, Smith carried 90 times for 256 yards and just two touchdowns, all career lows. In his last start, Oct. 5 against
his former Dallas Cowboys teammates, Smith carried six times for minus-one yard and sustained the broken scapula that sidelined him six weeks.
Shipp rushed 228 times for 830 yards. He also led the Cardinals in rushing in 2002, when he replaced former first-round pick Thomas Jones as the
starter and carried 188 times for 834 yards.
Len Pasquarelli - Espn