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Same old Smith

CHARLOTTE – When he was informed that linebacker Luke Kuechly currently leads the NFL in tackles, ultra-competitive wide receiver Steve Smith conceded he could not compete in that category with the Panthers rookie.

"He's got way more tackles than me," Smith joked.

Smith has two tackles on the year. Two more than he likely wishes he had.

As for the statistics that actually matter to Smith, the 12th year wide receiver is closing in on another milestone.

He's one yard away from his seventh 1,000 yard season.

"I guess I'm doing OK," Smith said. "Not bad."

"There's not too many 5-9 wide receivers, 33 years old that are getting 1,000 yards."

That kind of production is rare indeed.

"It speaks well, first of all, for his longevity and second, for his ability to make these kinds of plays and do these things year in and year out," head coach Ron Rivera said.

Last week, Smith terrorized the Atlanta Falcons secondary. He hauled in seven catches for 109 yards – his fifth 100-yard game of the season. He may not specialize in tackles, but Smith proved he knows a thing, or two, or three about blocking.

Smith sprinted downfield and took care of three Atlanta defensive backs near the goal line, allowing quarterback Cam Newton to score on a 72-yard run in the third quarter.

"That quote, unquote fine wine," Rivera said of Smith. "He has most certainly improved with age."

Smith is looking forward to a rare opportunity this week.

The Los Angeles-native will have his parents in attendance at Qualcomm Stadium when the Chargers host the Panthers on Sunday.

Smith hasn't had too many chances to travel across the country for a game in California during his career. He's played in his home state just twice -- at San Francisco in 2001 and at Oakland in 2008.

"It's pretty special to play in front of my mom and dad," Smith said. "The ticket price is going to be hefty, but it will be worth it."

Fans might say the same about paying to watch Smith, who is climbing his way up the all-time receiving leader boards. He ranks 26th in NFL history with 11,277 receiving yards and 32nd with 759 receptions, while his 43 100-yard games are tied for 10th.

"He could be one of the representatives for this team in the Hall of Fame eventually," Rivera said. "I think he's earned it."

Smith will leave that for others decide. He's not interested in dissecting his Hall of Fame chances or evaluating his place among the game's greats.

Not yet, at least. There's more work to be done.

"When I'm done playing, I'll see where I end up when the end comes," Smith said. "Until then, I'm going to keep spinning that ball."


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