CHARLOTTE – Wide receiver Steve Smith can't wait to get on the field for the Panthers' season opener Sept. 12 at the New York Giants, but he's still working toward getting in game shape before making his debut.
That's why Smith, despite coming off the physically unable to perform list two weeks ago, is yet to appear in a preseason game. That appears unlikely to change in the preseason finale Thursday at Pittsburgh.
"I have not diverted from the path at hand, which is Week 1 in New York. That's been my focal point," Smith said. "I did want to play Saturday, but I knew that mentally I wasn't prepared and physically I wasn't prepared."
Still, Smith said he is making steady progress from the broken left arm he suffered in June. He said he can feel a difference from a week ago.
"Last week I was hurting. My lungs were hurting, my chest was burning," Smith said. "I'm just practicing right now, still getting my cardio up."
Smith said that trying to lead a young group of receivers from the sideline has been a learning experience, and that his absence from the huddle is giving the group more chances to learn the ropes.
"I'm a guy that sits there every week and hears them talk," Smith said. "It's kind of like a dad driving in a car, and he hears the kids in the back talking about the things they're going to do. And then on the field, you see the opportunities, and they're kind of closing their eyes a little bit.
"It's a learning experience for me being an older guy, and it's a learning experience for them as younger guys that it's not college anymore."
ROSTER UPDATE: The Panthers signed free agent offensive lineman Tim Duckworth on Monday, bringing their roster back up to 80 players.
That means Carolina must cut five players by 4 p.m. Tuesday to get down to the NFL maximum of 75 heading into the final preseason game.
Duckworth, a 6-4, 318-pound guard, has been on NFL practice squads since signing as an undrafted rookie with the Denver Broncos in 2007 out of Auburn. Outside of an appearance on the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad in the 2008 postseason, he had spent three full seasons on the New Orleans Saints' practice squad before they waived him on Aug. 25.
FANS STUFF THE BUS: The Panthers and Classroom Central want to thank fans and sponsors for contributing more than a ton of school supplies during Saturday's annual Stuff the Bus campaign.
Team partners Bank of America, Belk, Duke Energy and Harris Teeter assisted with supply donations.
Items collected included folders, pencils, glue sticks, pens, ruled paper, colored pencils, markers, crayons, highlighters, erasers, backpacks and calculators, plus $3,000 in donations. These items will equip underserved children in the Charlotte area for the new school year.
"Our fans' response to Stuff the Bus was once again outstanding and will provide vital support to our area's students and teachers during this school year," said Riley Fields, the Carolina Panthers director of community relations. "Providing basic materials, that in many instances can be taken for granted, gives students the critical tools they need to succeed."
Classroom Central is a non-profit store where local teachers can obtain materials free of charge for their students in need. For more information about Classroom Central and how to donate, visit www.classroomcentral.org.