Smith's injury puts rookies on standby

CHARLOTTE -- Rookie wide receiver David Gettis studied Steve Smith from afar before joining the Panthers, and now Gettis has gotten up close and personal with Smith over the last few months.

"If you can get multiple players – not just receivers – on the offense playing like he does, you put yourself in a great position to win games," Gettis said.

The Panthers certainly wish they could clone Smith this week.

Smith's status for Sunday's visit by the Chicago Bears is up in the air after he left last week's loss at the New Orleans Saints late in the third quarter with a sprained ankle.

If Smith can't play, a rookie like Gettis or Brandon LaFell could become the top option in the passing game for fellow rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Smith didn't sound overly optimistic about his prospects Monday, though a lot can change in six days.

"It's day to day, just see how it goes. I'm just trying to walk," said Smith, sporting a walking boot. "Maybe we could figure out some way with Reebok to put some cleats on the bottom (of the boot)."

Gettis made a veteran against the Saints play as Smith watched, securing a pass while going out of bounds for a 16-yard gain on fourth and 4. The catch got the Panthers close to field goal range with less than two minutes to play, but they backed up from there and fell short by a 16-14 count.

It's the kind of play the Panthers will need more often if Smith can't go.

"That's what we need right there – receivers making plays," said left tackle Jordan Gross, who also complimented Clausen's cool on the pressure-packed play. "That speaks volumes about what's inside of him. That's as clutch as you get."

Clausen acknowledged that the absence of Smith down the stretch against the Saints made a difficult situation that much more challenging, yet the Panthers nearly pulled it out.

If Smith doesn't play, Clausen could be throwing to a third rookie come Sunday in Armanti Edwards, who wasn't active for the first four games this season.

"I think all of us are really comfortable with each other," Clausen said. "We're good with each other and have gotten a lot of reps together. We have a lot of chemistry from OTAs, mini-camp and training camp.

"I have confidence in those guys making plays."

Even so, there's little doubt about Smith's place in the pecking order of Panthers playmakers. Smith was relatively quiet before the injury Sunday, catching two passes for 11 yards, but he leads the team with 13 catches for 174 yards while the rest of the wide receivers have combined for 13 catches for 194 yards.

Eleven of those are by rookies – seven by Gettis, four by LaFell.

"It's time for us to step up," Gettis said. "We have other weapons, but at the same time, it doesn't hurt to have a Pro Bowler out there. We're hoping for the best for him and his situation. He's a hard worker, so he's going to bounce back as soon as he can."

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