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Strickly Panthers: Hand it to Smith


CHARLOTTE – When wide receiver Steve Smith caught eight passes for 178 yards last Sunday at Arizona, it marked his highest yardage total in nearly five seasons.

Smith warned Thursday, however, that a repeat of those numbers in Week 2 could be difficult, and not just because he's facing Super Bowl champion Green Bay with former Panthers head coach Dom Capers as its defensive coordinator.

"If you catch eight passes for 200 yards, you're not going to come out the next game and catch 10 passes for 300 yards," Smith said. "Teams aren't going to go out there and say, 'Hey, whatever.' There are going to be some creative coverages."

If the Packers do throw more of their defensive weapons at Smith, however, that doesn't mean Carolina's offense is doomed to stall.

"In this offense, there are going to be times when I'm the focal point, and there are times when I'm going to have to run and occupy the safety," Smith said. "That's fine with me. When other guys are getting involved, it's fun."

Smith's approach to what the new coaching staff is trying to do has been met with praise.

"A lot of times veteran guys are set in their ways – what they do is how they do it, and they're never going to do it different," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "But I look at Steve, and he's working at learning the system and doing things different than he's ever done before. This system is different, and he's embraced that and is seeing some results from that.

"I really appreciate that because a lot of veteran guys who have had the kind of success he's  had don't always do that."

For the record, the last time Smith had more receiving yardage than he had last week was Oct. 15, 2006, when he racked up 189 yards at Baltimore.

The next week, he had 126 yards at Cincinnati.


(KE) ALOHA SAYS HELLO: One receiver who didn't get to participate in rookie quarterback Cam Newton's 422-yard passing day was fellow rookie Kealoha Pilares, but he expects to play Sunday.

Pilares returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain on Aug. 30.

"I've been coming in early and getting treatment on it, and it's paying off," Pilares said. "It's been kind of frustrating, but it's part of football and you have to deal with it. While you're hurt, you just have to stay in the playbook and work on that part of it, just stay mentally engaged."

Pilares, a fifth-round draft pick from the University of Hawaii, especially can't wait for his regular season debut after watching the regular season opener. He caught a touchdown pass in his preseason debut.

"The preseason and the real season are two different things," Pilares said. "Last week sitting on the sideline, it was pretty crazy. I've never been a part of a game like that."

DEFENSIVE DEBUTS: Two defenders with different reasons for wanting to prove themselves enjoyed similar results in their debuts.

Linebacker Thomas Davis, playing for the first time in nearly two year because of a pair of knee injuries, led the Panthers with seven tackles. Cornerback Chris Gamble, coming off a difficult season that included the second benching of his seven-year career, held All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check.

But Davis, despite a strong showing in his first regular season game since Nov. 8, 2009, didn't come away pleased because the Panthers lost.

"We executed for most of the game, but in the NFL you've got to execute the whole game. They were able to capitalize on some of our mistakes," Davis said. "The little things in my game - the little miscues like taking a wrong step, making a wrong read and just relying on my speed to make up for it - we've been talking about those things."

Gamble, viewed as a shutdown corner for much of his career, struggled last season and was removed from the starting lineup for a game before injuries kept him off the field for the final five games.

When the new coaching staff took over, however, they told him their plans right away, and he responded by holding Fitzgerald to three catches.

"From Day One, we wanted to let him know that we had a lot of confidence in him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Based on the tape we had seen, we were looking to establish him as a No. 1 corner, and he responded very well."

Davis, Gamble and the rest of the defense will have to be even better Sunday: The Packers' dynamic offense put up 42 points on the New Orleans Saints to open the season.

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