Steve Smith has always been a favorite player of mine. Growing up in the hay-day of the Panthers, when we made it to the two NFC Championships and the Super Bowl, he was one of three players who gave me the only reason to watch football, him, John Kasey, and Mike Rucker. But his age is definitely showing, and though his best days are behind him he definitely shows there is still a little “Cardiac Cat” left in him. He continues to produces league high numbers at the geriatric age of 34, making him the oldest Panther on the team. But like I said earlier, his best days are behind him and though he will remain the Panthers number one receiver on the roster for the foreseeable future his time with the team is waning.
For this season and the next I strongly believe that Steve Smith will remain with the Panthers, but after that his future is up in the air, or at least it is to me. Because of his age, the team needs to make him a figure-head of leadership and wisdom. Like Domenik Hixon and Chase Blackburn, I see Smith as a player here for experience in combat, so to speak, and not because of skill alone.
Now Smith is an interesting case. To me his main purpose is to show players like LaFell, Ginn, Lamont, and every young receiver on the roster what it means to be a productive member of the team and play-off caliber player. The reason his case is interesting is because he is still one of the better receivers in the league at his age. The Panthers are relying on him to produce at a high level for yet another year; he is quite possibly the way the Panthers passing game can succeed.
I say that with conviction, it is not a half willed statement. The Panthers are building for a stronger receiving core, just slowly. They continue to bank on Steve Smith to carry the brunt of the passing games success. The Panthers do not have a high-caliber receiving unit, so they continue to rely on Smith to draw more defenders so players like LaFell and Olsen can find gaps in the secondary. It is a tried and true strategy that is flawless. If they leave Smith uncovered, he gets open and breaks for a big gain, but if they pressure him too much, others find gaps and produce for themselves. The best example of this would have to be Armanti Edwards’s huge 80+ yard catch against the Redskins. Smith is the key to all of this and he most certainly is the original copy.
His time with the Panthers is almost up, but his insurmountable importance to the team cannot be understated. He will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason for the Panthers possible successes this year, and I commend him for his service to the Panthers organization. He has been an institution for the team, a huge personality that the team can rally around, and before I end this piece I’d like to state my thoughts for his future after the team. He will enter the Panthers Hall of Honor, no doubt in my mind. He has brought national attention to the team in the past and still does with his high-caliber of play. He should be considered for a spot in the National Hall of Fame, he would have shined if he was on a team with a Peyton Manning type player and not an upper middle class guy like Jake Delhomme.
Steve Smith is a great player and honestly I can’t wait until the Panthers season this year. He certainly will shine again with the coming year and I can’t stress enough how ecstatic I am for the Panthers this year. We have assembled a great team and finally I can say the Panthers have a great shot at the title without feeling bad about lying.