By Ted Fleming
Steve Smith, WR #89
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
He is 33 years old and is still one of the more feared receivers in the National Football League.
Steve Smith has more than 10,000 receiving yards since breaking into the league in 2001, but his value to the Carolina Panthers cannot be understated. The Los Angeles native is unquestionably the emotional leader of a team that is trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Smith has been the Panthers’ best wideout ten times and he would have posted a streak of eleven straight had he not suffered a broken left fibula in 2004, limiting him to just one game. That year, Muhsin Muhammad was the top receiver. Last season he had his third best season with 1,394 yards and he is inextricably tied to one of the brightest stars in the NFL in quarterback Cam Newton.
Smith made headlines recently when he revealed he lit into Newton in a nationally televised Thursday Night Football game in an attempt to get the 23-year old signal caller to stop sulking because his team was being embarrassed by the New York Giants. The University of Utah alum also had words with Jimmy Claussen in 2010 who was then No. 1 and is now listed as third on the Panthers depth chart.
While Ron Rivera would have been happier had the Smith criticism of Newton not gone public, the head coach knows by now that things like this are going to happen, especially when the player is as respected as Smith is.
“Honestly, I just wish it was a discussion that would have been kept between the two of them,” Rivera told Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “I don’t think it needs to be out there. But that’s what happened, so I’ll leave it at that.”
Smith has been selected for the Pro Bowl five times and is a three-time All Pro. After missing nearly all of 2004, he would be named Co-AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year with Tedy Bruschi the next year, as well as win the same award from the Professional Football Writers Association.
Not only is Smith the Panthers’ all-time leader in receiving yards, he led the NFL in receptions (103), receiving yards (1,563) and receiving touchdowns (12) in 2005. In his sophomore campaign he set the highest punt return average in a single game with 51.0 yards against the Bengals on December 8, 2002. Despite a bumpy start to Carolina’s season this year, he has 14 receptions for 296-yards (21.1 average), but has been kept out of the end zone so far.
In April, Smith was rewarded with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in Carolina blue, black and white through the 2015 season. He had predicted 11-years ago that he would finish his career with the Panthers, and the new deal will go a long way to fulfilling that expectation. There is also a club option for 2016.
“Steve has been a difference maker at receiver for us since he’s been here,” said general manager Marty Hurney at the time. “It’s always good to keep your core players. We felt like Steve made it very clear that he wanted to finish his career as a Panther. We’re glad he did.”
Smith has never been a free agent.
Charlotte is a favorite of Smith and his family, plus the receiver enjoys playing for Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. He also likes playing with Cam Newton, however, his budding relationship with the quarterback is a bit strained after what happened on the sideline of the team’s high-profile game on NFL Network.
“We won the lotto with Cam,” he said at the time of his extension. Only time will tell if he was correct.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.