Running back Alfonso Smith (46) gets a hug from receiver Larry Fitzgerald after scoring his first NFL touchdown last weekend against the Steelers.
Alfonso Smith's first NFL touchdown felt "amazing," but truthfully, there was emptiness to it as well.
"I was hoping for another opportunity because I wanted to take the lead," the Cardinals' running back said about his score against Pittsburgh that drew his team close but not close enough. "I am tired of losing."
Smith could have more say in how Sunday's game in Baltimore turns out. Starter Beanie Wells was able to do some limited work Thursday on his bad knee and coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was hopeful Wells would be able to do more Friday in his quest to play against the Ravens.
"We are all optimistic Beanie will play," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "God forbid if he doesn't, everybody else is going to have to step up."
That would start with Smith, who has gone from fringe candidate to make the team as a fifth-stringer when training camp began to Wells' backup. Technically LaRod Stephens-Howling follows Wells on the depth chart, but Stephens-Howling's size and importance on special teams makes Smith the workhorse-in-waiting. With Wells out, Chester Taylor would also get to play after being inactive against the Steelers.
"I feel like I am getting better every week. I have to, because I never know, really, when I will go in there," Smith said. "I didn't know I was going to go in against the Steelers. When I went in, I felt I had to make something happen.
"I look at it like I will start, even if Beanie is healthy. Nothing is set solid. If I am the backup, I have to work to keep that spot. I have to make sure the coaches trust me in all situations."
Smith has 89 yards rushing this season on 25 carries. Whoever runs against the Ravens will be facing the third-ranked rushing defense (and the top defense overall).
FRESH LOOK AT LINEBACKERS
Reserve linebackers O'Brien Schofield, Sam Acho and Stewart Bradley all figure to get more playing time going forward. This is part of the "normal progression," Whisenhunt said, noting that with a normal offseason, it would have started sooner.
The sore knee of starter Joey Porter – who sat out practice a second straight day Thursday – adds to the urgency of Schofield and Acho getting on the field, although both were going to start playing more regardless.
The experienced Bradley is also getting more work, much later than anyone thought. Whisenhunt acknowledged Bradley had a "steep learning curve" which slowed down his chance to get on the field. An inside linebacker by trade, the Cardinals are using Bradley as a pass rusher in sub packages of late, something that Whisenhunt said was always planned.
"He has a lot of things to learn about as an outside rusher but he definitely has talent," Whisenhunt said. "He's a lot more comfortable now you can start to see him play with the speed we saw."
Aside from Wells, two other Cardinals – wide receivers Early Doucet (quadriceps) and DeMarco Sampson (hamstring) – were also upgraded to limited work Thursday. Safety Kerry Rhodes (foot) remained sidelined.
Still limited were tight end Todd Heap (hamstring), tight end Jim Dray and cornerback Michael Adams (hand). Heap in particular wants to get back to play his former team.
"If Todd can give us a little bit, that's valuable, even in red zone or third downs," Whisenhunt said. "He beats me up with that every day, about wanting to play."
The Ravens put Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed on the injury report Thursday for the first time with a neck injury after he was unable to practice.