CHARLOTTE - The Panthers clearly are ahead of where they were this time last year, but they're also not getting ahead of themselves according to wide receiver Steve Smith.
"You don't want to peak too early," Smith said Thursday following the team's 10th and final Organized Team Activity. "You don't want to be in training camp shape today, because then when you go into training camp, you're in season form.
"Then where does that leave you for the season? That's how guys peter out."
Smith was in midseason form throughout the 2011 season, bouncing back from the quietest statistical year of his career as a starter with his first 1,000-yard season and first Pro Bowl appearance since 2008. Along the way, he became the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards and the 35th player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career yards.
In preparation for his 12th pro season, Smith isn't trying to break any records in offseason workouts but says the offense is continuing to break new ground.
"The older guys are just trying to stay in tempo, get in shape and be smart. We're also trying to lead by example and show the tempo and the understanding," Smith said. "We've been able to expand the offense and add a lot of things. We're getting a mouthful."
Smith said the offseason program is most helpful to the team's newcomers, a sentiment his head coach echoed.
"You do see some of the veterans at a different pace, because they're comfortable with a lot of the things that we're doing," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "For the rookies, it's getting their introduction to what we want to do and the players around them. They seem to really be the ones benefitting the most."
Rookies and vets alike can benefit from extra time in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's ever-changing playbook.
"You can never get comfortable," said Smith, who took a playful jab at Chudzinski when asked about his flirtation with a trio of head coaching jobs earlier in the offseason. "When he was interviewing, I just told him, 'Hey, listen. Wherever you think you're going to go, you can go ahead and put that L down because we're going to run through you.'
"It's good to have him back. He's innovative. His offense is always evolving. You can never get comfortable."
While Chudzinski kept the offense on its toes throughout Organized Team Activities and will do the same to opposing defenses throughout the season, Smith is looking forward to operating at a more leisurely pace after the team's minicamp on June 12-14, having planned a trip with the family to Peru to kick back after a productive offseason.
"I got a little cardio and got an opportunity to mess up while feeling things through," he said. "It went good."