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Smith upbeat about chance of playing Sunday

Fifteen years in the NFL have taught Smith more than just how to slip tackles. He's also become an example of how to fight through injury.

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ Fifteen years in the NFL have taught Smith more than just how to slip tackles. He's also become an example of how to fight through injury.

A day after appearing with a boot to protect his sprained ankle and toe, the Arizona Cardinals running back wore regular footwear and talked as if he still hopes to play Sunday in Detroit.

They say two to three weeks with me and, in a lot of cases, it can be two to three weeks,'' Smith said Thursday.But the things that I do to assist my body and the things we're doing inside the training room, that's the normal protocol. The things I do extra on top of that is something that I think will help speed up the normal protocol.

``I have some appointments today, and I look forward to seeing how those appointments work and how everything comes together. So we'll see how it feels tomorrow.''

Smith, who was already favoring a left ankle twisted Nov. 21 at Carolina, had gained 21 yards on three carries against the New York Jets last Sunday before spraining his left big toe in the first quarter of the 13-3 loss. He was unable to finish the game, and coach Dennis Green said rookie Larry Croom would start against the Lions.

But Green also listed Smith as questionable this week and said the NFL rushing leader might be an exception to the rule that questionable-status players usually aren't able to line up at game time.

He works really hard at rehab,'' Green said.I mean, he's in early in the morning and he's here later in the day, too. I think he's been fortunate. He's not easy to get a hit on. Something like a sprained toe, if it was going to knock him out it would be something like that. Normally, a knee, ankle _ it's hard to get a good shot at him.''

Smith has 679 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, pushing his career totals to 18,087 yards a strong season's total better than Walter Payton's former record and 163 TDs, 40 more than second-place Marcus Allen had. Smith also needs two 100-yard games to surpass Payton with 78 and is within reach of his 12th 1,000-yard season. But his chances of that would shrink if he sat out this weekend.

He said he wouldn't rush back until he felt sure he could perform with minimal chance of reinjury.

``The mental part of it (pain control) comes once you get past doing all the things you do to have a chance to go play, and you test it out and you know that you can absolutely move around good enough that you can survive on a football field,'' Smith said.

If the depth chart remains in effect Sunday, the Cardinals (4-7) would have an all-rookie heart of the offense: center Alex Stepanovich, quarterback John Navarre, who also has never started, and Croom.

But Croom, who impressed Green by running for 25 yards on 10 carries in the second half against the Jets, is hoping the inexperience up the middle won't be a weakness.

As far as Alex, I don't even consider him a rookie,'' Croom said.He's played the whole season, and he's a veteran by now. Navarre, he's a rookie. We're all fresh legs in there, and hopefully the veteran guys will bring us along and help us through the game.''

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