Smith not pleased with Panthers' WRs|Team is looking for a No. 2 wideout

Published 1:25 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2010

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — Steve Smith feels like a wise elder as he watches Carolina’s young receivers drop passes, struggle to get open, run the wrong routes and fail to produce a touchdown in the preseason.
‘‘It’s kind of like the dad driving in the car and he hears the kids in the back talking about the things they’re going to do,’’ the Panthers’ four-time Pro Bowl receiver said Monday. ‘‘Then on the field, you see the opportunity 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.’’
With the 31-year-old Smith sidelined for most of training camp and three preseason games while he recovers from a breaking his left forearm in a flag football game, the Panthers have tried numerous receiver combinations with no success.
With only one tuneup left Thursday at Pittsburgh, Carolina may be further away from identifying the No. 2 receiver than when camp began. Nobody from the inexperienced group of Dwayne Jarrett, Brandon LaFell, Kenny Moore, Wallace Wright, David Gettis, Armanti Edwards and Trent Guy seems like a sure bet to replace veteran Muhsin Muhammad, who wasn’t re-signed.
Smith thinks the group, average age 23.4, may not have properly used all the resources available, including himself. Carolina’s career leader with 58 touchdowns said he ‘‘kind of kept my mouth closed’’ in training camp because he wasn’t playing and perhaps not getting proper respect as one of the NFL’s top receivers.
‘‘Then when we watched film and we went over plays, they were showing examples of the things that I did last year. It kind of helps get a little credibility with those guys,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Whether they want to hear it or not, they get in the game and all of sudden things change and they’re getting smashed up side the head.
‘‘Then they’ll come to me and I’ll kind of give them their space and I’m like, ’What do I know?’’’
With Matt Moore in his first year as starting quarterback, the Panthers have spent extra time on the passing game dating to April’s minicamp. They’ve thrown 117 passes and had just 70 running plays in three preseason games, but are still looking for their first offensive touchdown.
Every receiver, it seems, has flaws.
Jarrett has good hands, but has trouble getting open and often runs wrong routes. LaFell’s a rookie and his hands are suspect. Kenny Moore is inconsistent and prone to drops. Wright fumbled Saturday against Tennessee, hurt his shoulder, and missed practice Monday. Gettis, Edwards and Guy are erratic rookies.
‘‘We are a very young team overall, particularly at the receiver position,’’ coach John Fox said. ‘‘I think we still have a lot of work to do.’’
Receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said in training camp that he was sure the No. 2 receiver was on the current roster. While the Panthers appear unlikely to go after recently released veterans Antonio Bryant and Laveranues Coles, they need to find an answer quickly.
Smith’s return from the second broken bone in his left arm in six months is crucial. He practiced in full pads last week for the first time, and is slowly getting his football conditioning back.
‘‘The arm is fine. This Monday cardio-wise is a lot better than last Monday — significantly,’’ Smith said. ‘‘So that’s a relief mentally for me.’’
Smith said he wanted to play Saturday against Tennessee but wasn’t mentally or physically prepared. He declined to answer if he’ll play Thursday, but declared himself ready for Week 1 against the New York Giants.
‘‘That’s been kind of the focal point and where I think we’re going to start,’’ Smith said.
Who lines up opposite Smith in that game remains a mystery. LaFell may have a slight upper hand, but Smith thinks the entire group needs to mature — and listen to its elders.
‘‘I’m not frustrated that nobody’s grabbed the No. 2 spot. Ultimately, it’s not my decision. I’m not the coach,’’ Smith said. ‘‘I think I’m more frustrated as a wide receiver unit, as an offensive guy, there were plays out there that we left on the field.
‘‘I’m also a guy that sits there every week and I hear them talk.’’