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Carolina Panthers

Smith set to play


CHARLOTTE - The clock is ticking toward the start of the regular season, and wide receiver Steve Smith understands that time is of the essence.

That's why Smith stuck around to catch some extra passes from quarterback Cam Newton after practice Monday, and that's why Smith is anxious to make his preseason debut Thursday when the Panthers visit the Cincinnati Bengals.

"It will be fun," Smith said. "Today was probably our best practice. We were going on all cylinders.

"When Thursday comes around, hopefully we'll be able to display that on a lot of plays."

The Panthers didn't display much in their last preseason game, a 20-10 loss at the Miami Dolphins on Friday. They were better in a victory over the New York Giants by the same score six days earlier, but they hope to be even better with Smith back in the lineup after missing both games with a finger injury.

"It was a learning opportunity for the young guys and for myself. It's just something we've got to work through," Smith said of the showing against Miami. "Success doesn't all come just at once. You've got to have a little failure and learn from it."

Smith's learning curve in the new offense took a detour on Aug. 9, when he cut the webbing between two fingers on a catch in practice, forcing him to miss nearly a week of practices at training camp. From the initial looks of it, it could have been worse.


"The first thing they said was, 'We think it's a compound fracture,'" Smith said. "That means they would have to re-break it to put it back in place. There was blood everywhere already. It was a little much, talking about breaking and re-breaking, but it was fine."

Smith did require stitches but returned to practice Aug. 15, the Panthers' first practice after the Giants game. He did play at Miami, however, in part because he didn't have the stitches removed until after the game.

"I've got a little pad on it just to make sure it doesn't bust back open," Smith said. "If it busts back open, you'd go back two steps."

Monday, Smith tried to make up for lost time by staying after practice to catch balls. He's not simply trying to make up for the time lost to the finger injury.

The labor unrest that extended through the offseason meant that the Panthers' first practice with their new coaching staff didn't come until training camp opened.

"Usually, we'd be hitting the ground running at training camp and the coaches would be coaching us up on minor mistakes, but at training camp this year we were installing 40, 50 plays a day," Smith said. "That's a mouthful, but that's just how it goes. You've got to work through it. It's been good. I've been flash-carding it, kind of like going back to college, to learn these routes.

"It falls on the professional to put in the extra time beyond when the coaching staff is looking at you. You have to put in that extra work to be great."

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