CHARLOTTE - Safety
"It's an amazing feeling to have a city get behind you like that," Smith said of last season in San Francisco, when the 49ers hosted the NFC Championship Game. "I think we can have the same thing here."
The 49ers went 6-10 the year before going 13-3 in the regular season and coming within a play of reaching the Super Bowl. The Panthers are coming off a 6-10 season.
"In a way, it kind of reminds me of how the 49ers were prior to last year - a team on the rise with a lot of young talent," Smith said. "All they need are a few things to go a certain way, and the sky's the limit."
Smith hopes to be a big part of the Panthers' next step. He started the final seven games of the 2010 season and held the position into training camp last season before he suffered a torn meniscus in his knee that prompted the 49ers to re-sign free agent Dashon Goldson.
Smith was healthy enough to play in the season opener, but Goldson never relinquished the starting spot.
"That put me behind everybody, and I just never caught back up," Smith said. "I'm happy I was able to contribute to the season, and I enjoyed the 49ers team. I just want more."
With the Panthers, Smith will be given every opportunity to compete. The team returns starters
"There already were a lot of good guys here, and they brought in even more," Smith said. "It's going to be a good competition."
The 49ers drafted Smith in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma, where he ascended from freshman all-conference to a second-teamer to a first-teamer before turning pro after his junior year.
Smith enjoyed solid four seasons in San Francisco, playing in every game the last two seasons and playing on special teams throughout his tenure. A baseball player growing up, Smith said he plays safety a bit like he played centerfield, always aiming to close fast and make game-changing plays on the ball.
In his short time with the Panthers, Smith has leaned on his Oklahoma roots. He's the fourth former Sooner to join the roster in the last seven months, giving Oklahoma more representatives on the 90-man roster than any other school.
The first of those four additions, fellow safety
"He's really helped me out," Smith said. "Just take a look at my phone. I'll put in the Os and Xs, and he'll draw up the formation and send me a text message that shows me, 'OK, that's where we need to be.'"
And now Smith is where he wants to be - in the fight for playing time with another up-and-coming team.
"Everybody's aspiration is to start," he said. "I want to help out. I want to be on the field."
This is the latest in a series of articles profiling offseason veteran free agent acquisitions, a series that previously featured running back Mike Tolbert, safety Haruki Nakamura and guard Mike Pollak. Look for more to come on Panthers.com.