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Strickly Panthers: Smith, Newton closing in

Posted Dec 1, 2011

CHARLOTTE - Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith's next catch will be a historic one – in more ways than one if it happens to cover most of the field.

With 70 consecutive games with a reception, Smith is tied with former Carolina tight end Wesley Walls for the longest streak with at least one catch in franchise history. In addition, Smith needs 56 receiving yards to become 35th player in NFL history with 10,000.

Smith, second in the NFL this season with 1,060 receiving yards and tied for seventh with 59 catches, is on pace to break Muhsin Muhammad's tea record of 696 receptions before the end of the year, needing 18 more catches. Smith already is the franchise leader in receiving yards (9,944) and receiving touchdowns (57).

Meanwhile, the man throwing Smith the ball this season has his sights set on a couple of NFL records.

With five games to go, rookie quarterback Cam Newton needs just 647 yards to break Peyton Manning's rookie record of 3,739 passing yards. Newton, at 3,093 yards, is averaging 281.2 per game. He needs to average 129.4 per game the rest of the way to earn the mark.

He's just off the pace for the rookie attempts (590) and completions (354) marks established by Sam Bradford a year ago. Newton has 239 completions on 392 attempts.

Newton already owns the rookie record for rushing touchdowns and needs just three more to claim the NFL record that Steve Grogan established in 1976 with 12 rushing scores.

While Newton has 10 rushing touchdowns, the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFC have combined for 16 rushing touchdowns, and AFC quarterbacks have totaled 16 rushing touchdowns. Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets are second in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with three apiece.

Newton was one off the NFL lead for rushing touchdowns regardless of position entering Thursday. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had 11 apiece.

WAITING IN WINGS: Rookie Kealoha Pilares, the NFC leader in kickoff return average, missed practice for the second consecutive day Thursday with a quad injury.

If Pilares can't play when the Panthers visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, head coach Ron Rivera said second-year wide receiver Armanti Edwards would get a shot.

Edwards never returned kicks in college or high school, but he's been the Panthers' lone punt returner this season, averaging 6.0 yards on 25 returns. His kickoff return experience is limited to two returns for 39 yards in the 2010 preseason.

"I'll take any opportunity to get out on the field more," Edwards said. "Just like punt return, you've got to get used to it. You really can't make too many moves on kick return because if you stop your feet on kick return, everybody will get to you."

ROSTER UPDATE: The Panthers have an open spot on their 53-man roster. That could change as early as Friday, Rivera said, or Carolina could keep it open through the weekend with only 46 active players allowed for game day.

Earlier this week, the Panthers waived offensive lineman Reggie Wells.

There's also been movement on the practice squad, with the Panthers adding offensive lineman Garrett Chisolm and running back Kory Sheets to the unit. The holes were created by the signing of wide receiver Darvin Adams to the active roster last week and the loss of safety Jermale Hines to the Indianapolis Colts' 53-man roster.

CHEMICAL REACTION: Panthers players are working well together, but they haven't worked together long enough to see all the benefits according to Rivera.

"Our chemistry with the guys that are playing is good. These guys like playing and being around one another and working together," Rivera said. "But what we've still got to have that's important is the thing where you hear people say, ‘I knew exactly where he was going to be. He didn't have to say anything.' We haven't gotten to that point yet."

Rivera isn't being critical. Rather, he's being realistic about the growing pains that young teams often must endure.

"The thing that is great is that these guys have come to work every day and they've done exactly what we've asked," Rivera said. "Their attitude has been terrific, it really has. This group of guys deserves better, and that's what we're working toward."