Best of 89: Steve Smith Sr. knows where home is

Steve Smith Sr., Taylor Zarzour

CHARLOTTE — There was a time in Steve Smith Sr.'s life when he might have felt like a Raven.

And there's a reasonable case that Baltimore was something of a spiritual home, as former general manager Ozzie Newsome definitely had a type with the teams he built there over the years. Full of castoffs and big personalities and players who weren't deemed "fits" for whatever reason, Smith Sr. was a perfect match for the island of misfit toys — seemingly all of them with edge — they assembled.

But if there was any doubt about where Smith Sr.'s heart lies, it's the same place his furniture is, and where his name's in the Hall of Honor. He comfortably made references to the Panthers as "us" and "we" during Saturday's preseason broadcast between his two NFL teams, eliminating any doubt about where home is.

He also sounded much more comfortable in the booth, as one broadcast professional mentioned last night. But he's always going to be 89, and that spirit keeps coming through.

Pity the non-starting quarterbacks he deems insufficient or sitting-duck teams that are easy to make fun of, but Smith brings plenty of insight along with the cutting one-liners and verbal side-eyes.

In discussing Sam Darnold's first playing time, or the lack thereof, Smith explained that more important than any stats would be Darnold's ability to get play calls in, and get the team in and out of the huddle. He also praised Darnold hanging in the pocket ("No happy feet") for his one completion to Robby Anderson, but was more effusive about Darnold throwing the ball away later in his one drive.

DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Steve Smith Sr.

He also mentioned linebacker Jermaine Carter as the new leader on that side of the ball, for his ability to understand the entire system having played each position.

"He is not Luke Kuechly, but he could be the quarterback of that defense," Smith Sr. said.

He had kinder words this week for quarterback Will Grier, who played much better with the twos than he did with the threes against the Colts last week (and also better than P.J. Walker did with the twos last week or the threes this week).

Smith Sr. pointed out that Grier was able to help spring Chuba Hubbard for a long gain on a short pass by "keeping his eyes downfield" and not tipping the Ravens' safeties.

Perhaps the player he was most enthusiastic about was outside linebacker Frankie Luvu, for a few reasons.

One, Luvu went to Washington State, and Smith Sr. can be rather partisan when it comes to the Pac-12. Two, Luvu is a fun name to say, the kind of thing Smith Sr. and fans can lean into and draw out the vowel sounds.

But he also broke down Luvu's timing and knowledge of the game, mentioning the way he delayed his rush a moment to hide from the quarterback.

"He's quick enough, but slow enough quarterback can't see him," Smith Sr. said. "But when he gets his hands on someone, watch out mama, here comes that man."

He's also able to break down offensive line play. After an extended discussion last week of the false start issues and why tackle Trent Scott was jumping, he shook his head when guard Deonte Brown jumped, and immediately headed to the sidelines. "He already knew he was in trouble," Smith Sr. said.

Steve Smith and David Tepper

Later in the game, as play-by-play partner Taylor Zarzour was promoting the team store, 89 mentioned his own jerseys weren't available.

"They can't sell my jerseys," he said. "Because I own them. I have about 500 in the attic. Before I went to Baltimore I bought the whole store out. People were shocked by that. My attic's like a swap meet." And then, perhaps dropping a hint about some of his sideline conversations with Panthers owner David Tepper, he said: "You can't create a monopoly if you don't control the product."

There were still plenty of one-liners, like his medical discussion of Keith Taylor's shoulder injury: "He's going to be all right, just put some hot sauce on that chicken wing."

And after Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley hung a ball over the middle and put a receiver at risk, Smith Sr. dropped a "pass like that will get you to the nurse's office."

He's always going to be him, and there's one more week left this preseason to see what Smith Sr. comes up with next — Friday night against the Steelers to close what has already been a memorable preseason in the broadcast booth.

View game action photos from Carolina's preseason game against Baltimore at Bank of America Stadium.

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