SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Moments after the Carolina Panthers' position groups scattered for individual drills at Gibbs Stadium on Monday morning, left tackle Jordan Gross knew something was up.
"I heard everybody cheering during individual drills, and I figured they weren't hollering about the offensive line," Gross said. "I looked over, and Steve was catching passes."
Wide receiver Steve Smith came off the physically unable to perform list Monday and stepped onto the practice field for the first time at training camp, seeing limited action in the 23rd practice of the 26 scheduled.
Smith took part in drills with the quarterbacks, wowing the crowd with a leaping catch of a Matt Moore pass, then he returned to the sideline for the duration.
"It was real good, catching the ball from Matt and running some routes," Smith said. "There are a few things to work on, but it was pretty good.
"I just need to run routes and stuff and get back in the thick of things with knowing the plays, getting up to the line and running the right route. Once the quarterback tells you the play, you've got to go up to the line, know exactly what you're doing and go. That's the only part you don't get sitting in meetings for three weeks."
Fans shouldn't bank on getting a chance to cheer Smith on in a game until the regular season kicks off. Smith sounded like he didn't think it essential that he play in a preseason game, and head coach John Fox seemed to echo those sentiments.
"I feel compelled to have him ready for that opener and whatever that takes getting him ready," Fox said. "We'll have plenty of time to get him sharp."
Smith said he's right on schedule in his return from a broken left arm he suffered in early June while playing flag football.
"They said eight weeks, and we're at eight weeks. So I'm right on, just chugging along," Smith said. "I'm taking it slow. I caught from the Jugs (Football Passing Machine) the other day and that worked out well, so we moved onto the quarterbacks.
"It's not bad – no pain, no tweaking or anything."
Smith certainly hasn't lost any of his swagger during his recovery period. Smith broke the same arm late in the 2009 regular season and now has three metal plates and 15-20 screws in the arm, but he isn't losing sleep over the possibility of opponents trying to cause him still more pain.
"I would hope that it wouldn't be a target, but who knows. Every so often you'll come up on a chump that may try," Smith said. "If they want to try, they can come get some if they want it.
"I don't think it's going to work out to well for 'em – there ain't much bone left in this thing."
While Monday's development only strengthened the line of thinking that Smith will be ready for the season opener Sept. 12 at the New York Giants – the team against which he hurt his arm last season – Smith doesn't yet have a theory about who will start opposite him.
"I haven't seen anybody that has really, really separated themselves," he said. "You've seen some young guys make some great plays, and then you've seen some guys make some young plays.
"You've got to let those guys grow from it, and we'll see."
With a significant separation between Smith – a four-time Pro Bowler -- and the Panthers' other receivers, the team took Smith's step forward Monday as an encouraging sign.
"He's an outstanding weapon for us and a familiar face, a guy who has played a lot of football," Gross said. "He's definitely going to help us offensively.
"It was nice to have him out there."