Ihmir Smith-Marsette's emergence into an offensive difference-maker is a damning indictment on the previous head coach's talent evaluation.
There have been some notable improvements offensively where the Carolina Panthers are concerned since Frank Reich's dismissal. One of the most encouraging centers on Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who's emerged from an afterthought to someone who could be in line for a contract extension when the time comes.
It's been a hard slog for Smith-Marsette following his trade from the Kansas City Chiefs after the teams swapped seventh-round picks to prevent someone else from getting him on the waiver wire. He's been primarily used in the return game until recently. But some signs of life have emerged within a more expansive scheme implemented by offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
Carolina Panthers getting more from Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Smith-Marsette is getting creative touches in the passing game and on running plays. There's also a bit of trickery thrown in for good measure. This is where the former fifth-round pick out of Iowa thrives.
This is something that hasn't gone unnoticed by interim head coach Chris Tabor, who highlighted the importance of players like Smith-Marsette developing their craft ahead of more widespread changes across the Panthers this offseason based on comments via Sports Illustrated.
"Yeah, he's making plays in the jet sweep, stuff like that. He's a really good football player. He's a kid that he just likes football, and when you're around him and talking to him, I think you'll probably feel that. He's hurt right now, obviously, like we all are, but really proud of where he started and where he's going. I think that's the deal, right? I know we haven't won as many games as we've wanted to, but you're seeing a player improve, and I think that's important."- Chris Tabor via Sports Illustrated
The numbers aren't jaw-dropping. That's not the point. Smith-Marsette is maximizing every carry coming his way. He's overcome significant adversity. He remains highly confident in his ability to be a huge asset if given the opportunity. That's the sort of mindset sorely missing during another campaign littered with underachievement in Carolina.
Just why Reich was so reluctant to include Smith-Marsette as part of his offensive strategy is anyone's guess. He was part of the brain trust that brought him on board. Not utilizing his weapons effectively was the primary reason - along with Bryce Young's indifferent development - why he was shown the door.
Smith-Marsette is an asset. He's got elusive traits. He can make things happen with the football in his hands. He's a high-character individual with a strong mindset.
Players like that are worth keeping around. Much will depend on how a new coaching staff sees things, but giving Smith-Marsette the chance to fight for his roster spot is the least he deserves after patiently waiting for his opportunity to show the organization what he's capable of.
Keeping players like Smith-Marsette would also ensure Young has some stability around him. There is a need to reinforce the skill positions, to solidify the offensive line depth. Having some level of continuity for the signal-caller is only going to assist his cause.
This also applies to the likes of Chuba Hubbard, Tommy Tremble, and Jonathan Mingo. These are young players with roles to play moving forward. Another reason why the Panthers might be a more attractive destination than many anticipate despite not having a first-round pick to call upon.
Looking too far ahead is foolish for players on Smith-Marsette's path. But he's making a good impression at the best possible time to give himself a fighting chance.