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Emari Demercado Homecoming Has Added Importance With Conner Injury

Rookie running back aims to fill void against Rams

Running back Emari Demercado (right) celebrates with guard Trystan Colon after Dermercado's first NFL touchdown against the Bengals last weekend.
Running back Emari Demercado (right) celebrates with guard Trystan Colon after Dermercado's first NFL touchdown against the Bengals last weekend.

If Emari Demercado walks to the end of the street on which he grew up, he can see SoFi Stadium.

It wasn't there growing up, of course – "Then was just empty, it used to be the (old) Hollywood Park Casino, and it's way different now" – but now it marks not only the NFL coming to his neighborhood but also the steps along Demercado's football career.

The Cardinals rookie running back has played at SoFi once. He was with TCU last season, when the Horned Frogs were obliterated by Georgia in the National Championship game. His second trip will be Sunday, when the Cardinals visit the Rams and Demercado might just get a chance to have his playing time blossom.

With starting running back James Conner on Injured Reserve, the Cardinals have to figure out how to parcel out the playing time. Keaontay Ingram, who has been listed as Conner's backup all season, will return this week after missing two games with a neck injury.

"I'll keep the same approach being right behind JC," Ingram said. "With JC being down, I don't see anything different."

There is also new waiver claim Tony Jones, and both Damien Williams and Corey Clement on the practice squad.

Demercado, however, is perhaps the most intriguing. When Conner went down, Clement – who was active against the Bengals – still didn't get an offensive snap. Demercado, who had already been playing on third downs a lot this season, slid in for 10 carries, 45 yards and his first pro touchdown.

"I told him, 'You're not here to be JC. You're here to be Emari,'" tackle Paris Johnson Jr. said. "'That's why they brought you in. You do you.' We fully believe in the backs we have until JC gets back."

Demercado's snaps have increased each game, although it was to be expected with Ingram down and then Conner going out. He only had four total carries before the Bengals game as a third-down back, but that should change.

(Demercado smiled when asked about his fantasy football prospects. "I don't really know much about fantasy," he said.)

"He's very unflappable," offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said. "Whatever was asked of him, the stage was never too big. … You'd never know it was his first year out there."

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs acknowledged the Cardinals might have to get more creative in the run game with Conner out, and while Ingram is more of a bigger back in line with Conner's stature, Demercado is not.

Demercado has been here before. In college, he was the sidekick to Kendre Miller, and Demercado knew if he was going to get to the NFL it would have to be the undrafted route. He'd love to be the main ballcarrier while Conner is out but won't be fazed if he is not.

"Everybody has their role," he said.

Demercado admitted he is enjoying the moment. Just to be on an NFL team – on the 53-man roster, no less – means so much to the kid who grew up so close to where he will be playing on Sunday.

He had a middle school teacher reach out to tell him about attending the game to see Demercado. There will be more than just a few friends and family ready to watch his homecoming.

"It's a nice moment for them to watch me doing something I dreamed of doing my whole life," he said.

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