NFL: Smith happy he returned to Panthers
CHARLOTTE ó When Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera met with Steve Smith back in April all he asked of the star receiver was a chance.
A chance to prove that Smith would love playing for the Panthers once he got to see the teamís new offensive scheme. A chance to prove the team would find ways to use his tremendous athletic skills. A chance to prove the organization was committed to finding a franchise quarterback to get him the ball.
Smith took that chance and both sides are thrilled he did.
Rivera has a star receiver who has been a huge help to rookie Cam Newton while Smith is enjoying a renaissance of sorts at 32, leading the NFL with 818 yards receiving.
ěIíve been sitting on the shelf for about two years, just collecting that dust,î Smith said. ěGet the cobwebs off, throw on a little WD-40 and let me go to work.î
The excitement is back in Smithís voice, and for good reason.
Heís on pace to shatter Jerry Riceís single-season record of 1,848 yards set in 1995. Smith has four games with at least 140 yards receiving and is averaging 21 yards per catch. Heís averaging 116.8 yards receiving per game, second only to New Englandís Wes Welker.
Thatís fairly remarkable considering as recently as July, Smith still wasnít sure he wanted to come back to Carolina.
Smith, who has two years left on his current contract, didnít publicly demand a trade in the offseason, but it was pretty clear he was open to such a move.
ěWe talked about (his future) and it was a great conversation,î said Rivera, hired in January to replace Fox after a 2-14 season. ěHe really voiced his opinion and concerns about us and about what he had gone through the last couple of years. I just told him to give us a chance and let things unfold.î
Smith was frustrated over the way he was used the past two seasons and itís hard to blame him.
After posting a 1,421-yard season in 2008, Smithís numbers dropped dramatically the last two seasons as he became more of a decoy in Foxís run-first offense. After four straight 1,000-yard seasons, Smith had 982 yards receiving in 2009 and only 554 in 2010.
Rivera assured him things would be different this season, advising Smith to think about it during the NFL lockout. Smith spent the offseason contemplating what to do, even saying he considered retirement at one point after his wife had a health scare.
Smith had plenty of folks trying to keep him around, including Newton.
ěI told him straight up, Iím not going to lie to you and fill your head up with things you already know,î Newton said. ěBut one thing I am going to do is throw my submission letter into the suggestion box just like everybody else and try (to get you to stay).î
Newton said Smith talked about his career aspirations during that visit. Newton promised to help him reach them.
ěI told him, ëWhatever you want me to do, I will do it,î Newton said.
Newton and Smith worked out together in Charlotte after that and got to know each other on a personal level, forming a bond both have said has been crucial to their early-season success.
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