Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Apologetic Hambrick playing behind Emmitt again

By Bob Baum
The Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - Troy Hambrick is playing behind Emmitt Smith again, but this time he's not complaining.

"I've got a big heart for Emmitt," Hambrick said after an Arizona Cardinals' workout, "and every day I get a chance to apologize to him for the things I said when I was younger and hungrier and thought that was the thing to do. It was immaturity."

The Cardinals traded an undisclosed conditional 2005 draft pick to Oakland last week to acquire Hambrick and defensive end Peppe Zellner. With new Arizona coach Dennis Green firmly committed to the 35-year-old Smith as the starting running back, a wiser Hambrick said he will play whatever role the Cardinals desire.

"They traded for me, so they needed me," Hambrick said. "I come in a little out of shape, but I'm pressing along trying to fit into this offense some kind of way. If my role is limited, I'll take it. If it's full of excitement, I'll take that."

With Marcell Shipp gone with a season-ending leg injury, Hambrick becomes the power back to complement Smith's more finesse style.

"It was a good combination in Dallas until I opened my mouth," Hambrick said Sunday. "I'm going to try to keep that closed this year, and in the years to come."

Just two seasons ago, when Smith was still with Dallas and became the NFL's career rushing leader, Hambrick was impatient with his backup role, and said so.

At training camp in 2002, when Smith was just 540 yards shy of the record, Hambrick called himself the best running back on the team. After Smith broke the record, Hambrick hinted it was time for him to move on.

"I have always admired Emmitt and his will and the things he's done," Hambrick said back then. "I just feel like it comes a time - it's not my call to say when it's time - but I'm a guy that wants to get my career off the ground and establish myself as a household name."

Hambrick got his wish in 2003 and his attitude was still the same when the season started.

"This is my time," he said. "We've been waiting on Emmitt to retire or make his move. ... Of course, I see it as a breakout year. Every time I touch the ball, it's a breakout carry."

What followed was a lesson in humility. He started all 16 games for Dallas last season and gained 927 yards, but averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.

"It was just my desire to play the game," Hambrick now says of his big talk. "I was hearing from everybody that I was the next thing to O.J. Simpson. But they didn't tell me that once a team starts game-planning against you, all those big runs stop."

The Cowboys drafted running back Julius Jones in the first round this year, then released Hambrick in September. He was signed by Oakland, but spent more time eating than playing with the Raiders in the preseason.

"Not doing much there in Oakland, I gained maybe 10 or 12 pounds," Hambrick said. "I want to get down to 250. I'm about 260 now and I feel it. I'm working with the strength coach now. It's a work in progress, but I love to eat."

Smith said he harbors no bad feelings toward Hambrick.

"That's all water under the bridge to me," Smith said. "He had his opportunity to do what he needed to do. I don't think it had anything to do with me personally. He wanted to play. I understand that. He just handled it in a very immature way, which he's recognized."

Still, Smith obviously gets a kick out of finding the two of them in the same roles.

"It is funny," he said with a chuckle. "It is funny."

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