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Veteran advice helps Shi Smith shine

Shi Smith

CHARLOTTE – Shi Smith keeps a listening ear open.

The Panthers' wide receiver collected advice ahead of his second season in the league, meeting with Carolina legend Steve Smith, and soaking in knowledge from his veteran teammates Rashard Higgins and Andre Roberts.

What has Smith learned? Stay in the playbook. Earn the trust of your coaches and teammates, especially your quarterback. Keep your body healthy.

Shi Smith

Shi Smith takes lessons from veteran Panthers

With Steve Smith, Shi Smith has talked about everything from life off the field to using his hands more while running routes. Higgins gave him tips on studying the playbook. Roberts has helped Smith sharpen his skills in the return game.

It'd suffice to say Smith has taken their words to heart, as he has consistently impressed throughout training camp. Head coach Matt Rhule called Smith "a true bright spot of camp."

Smith's growth – and versatility – could be his ticket to a spot on the roster. Rhule said Smith is even in the conversation for a starting role.

"To be able to play multiple positions, you really have to work at it, and Shi has really worked at it," Rhule said. "He's becoming a very dependable player to go along with his explosiveness. He's not, to me, like a down-the-line guy. He's a guy fighting for a starting role on this team, and a legitimate starter who can make plays."

Shi Smith has prioritized staying healthy

Smith was the Panthers' sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft out of South Carolina, playing six games as a rookie. He's battled injuries throughout his short professional career, and both Smith and his coaches have noticed the attention he has given to take care of his body.

"As far as staying on top of my body, that's the main thing," Smith said. "Making sure I'm healthy, because you know if you're in the tub, you can't make the club. That's the main thing."

Shi Smith

With a number of other receivers dealing with injuries throughout camp, Smith has had time to shine with added reps at practice and in Carolina's first two preseason games.

"(There were) just more reps for the guys who weren't injured, to the guys that were going," Smith said. "I just took full opportunity of it."

Smith has already developed a level of chemistry with Panthers' starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, as the two connected on back-to-back third-down conversions in the first preseason game at Washington. He took a kickoff return 41 yards in that same game, setting up for a game-winning field goal drive.

Shi Smith's role in Carolina's offense

At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Smith has shown Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo he's more than just a slot receiver. Rhule said they're also confident in Smith's ability to track the ball outside.

Add in his work returning punts, something Rhule said Smith is growing more comfortable in thanks to live-game situations like the preseason games, and he's proven to be a valuable asset throughout camp.

"Shi just kind of gives us a shot in the arm no matter who else is on the roster," Rhule said. "I think if everyone's healthy, Shi is still one of our top guys out there."

Higgins smiled when asked about Smith, calling his fellow receiver one of his closest teammates. The seven-year NFL veteran Higgins is one of the Panthers lending advice to Smith, and he saw the same productive camp everyone else did.

Rashard Higgins, Shi Smith, Spencer Brown

That level of camaraderie is sharpening Smith, and it's sharpening Carolina's receiving group as a whole.

"I try to sit down with him and give him some vet experience," Higgins said. "You know, 'hey bro, this is not a game.' At the beginning, he kind of started off slow, but now he's getting hot.

"He's heating up, and that's what we want out of him, because at the end of the day, we need playmakers. He's one of them. Every receiver is one of them. We're going to continue to push each other like we've been doing."

View photos from Wednesday's Panthers practice before Friday's preseason opener against the Bills.

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