Panthers WR Smith, 33, keeps piling up numbers
Panthers receiver Steve Smith said there was a time when he was
consumed by his goals, one of them being making the Hall of
Make no doubt it; he’d still love to wind up there.
But the 12-year NFL veteran has mellowed some, taking a little
more time to enjoy the twilight of the NFL career as he quietly
strives to become the first player ever drafted by the Panthers to
make it to Canton, Ohio.
”When you are so focused on goals you start to miss other
things,” Smith said. ”So I’m enjoying not missing the other
things. I’ll allow the other things to be discussed when I’m done
In the meantime, the 33-year-old Smith plans to continue to spin
the ball after catches and irritate defensive backs who attempt to
shut him down.
That’s no easy task.
Smith’s latest 100-yard receiving game Sunday against Atlanta
was the 43rd of his career, putting him in the top 10 in NFL
He currently ranks 26th all-time with 11,277 yards receiving and
32nd in receptions (759). He needs 197 catches and 2,500 yards
receiving to move into the top 10 in both categories.
Those around him believe he’s more than capable of reaching
those marks with a few more seasons playing alongside Cam
”He still plays like he’s 22,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera
Despite being at the tail end of his career, Smith is still
Carolina’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver.
He leads the Panthers in receptions and enters Sunday’s game
against San Diego one yard shy of his seventh 1,000-yard receiving
season. When Newton needs a big play, more often than not he’s
looking Smith’s way.
And how can you blame him?
”You know what’s interesting about Steve is the way he
practices,” Rivera said. ”He still practices so hard and you
actually have to ask him to take reps off. … Then he’ll go back
in right away and go 100 miles per hour again. It’s just who Steve
is, and that’s why he’s had so much success and has lasted as long
as he has.”
Chargers coach Norv Turner compares Smith to Henry Ellard,
another seemingly ageless receiver who turned in a 1,000-yard
receiving season at 35.
”My experience with receivers like Steve is once they get to a
point and they haven’t slowed down, it seems like they go
forever,” Turner said. ”The thing that Steve has aside from all
his athleticism – his great speed, his strength, his ability to cut
– is just has that attitude that’s so competitive that he’s going
to go out and be successful.
”And I think when you’re getting ready to play against him, you
better understand it’s going to be a dogfight, it’s going to be
competitive, it’s going to be toe-to-toe for 60 plays and you’d
better be ready to meet that challenge.”
Panthers fourth-year cornerback Captain Munnerlyn called Smith
is the best receiver he’s ever faced ”by far.”
”That’s great for me because I practice against him,”
Munnerlyn said. ”It makes the game on Sunday way easier for
Munnerlyn said he hasn’t seen Smith lose a step.
He said he’s still the quickest receiver on the roster and the
toughest to defend.
”He’s amazing. Being that age, he can still run.” Munnerlyn
said. ”That’s the scary part. Honestly it doesn’t seem like he’s
slowing down anytime soon.”
Former Tampa Bay and Carolina receiver Mark Carrier played in
the NFL until he was 32 and can’t imagine playing at the level
Smith is right now.
Carrier said at some point in time the body begins to wear down,
but Smith doesn’t seem affected by any of that.
”I think his competitiveness is what drives him,” Carrier
Smith has made plenty of mistakes off the field during his time
in Carolina, but he’s matured into a team leader and captain.
He continues to pass his knowledge along to the younger
receivers on the roster.
”We’re all in awe of the way he plays,” said Panthers rookie
receiver Jared Green, a member of the team’s practice squad. ”But
he also gives us a systematic and academic approach to the game and
to our playbook. Without him, I don’t think we’d learn all of the
things we have as quick.”
As for his own future, Smith said he’s not sure how much longer
But he’s not thinking about retirement.
He still likes playing.
But he loves proving people wrong even more.
”People will say well, he got (1,000 yards) but he’s lost a
step and he’s not that and he isn’t this,” Smith said. ”But there
aren’t too many 5-foot-9 receivers who are 33 years old that are
getting 1,000 yards or were at the Pro Bowl last year.
”So I guess I’m doing OK. Not bad.”
Smith said he’ll take time to savor this Sunday’s game against
San Diego as it serves as a homecoming of sorts. He grew up in
inner city Los Angeles, so he’ll have a rare opportunity to play in
front of his parents and some friends.
As for where he ends up, Smith said that’s a discussion for
”When I’m done playing I’ll sit on my porch with a little iced
tea in my hand,” Smith said. ”I will see where I end up when the
And until then?
”I’m just going to keep spinning that ball,” Smith said.
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