Super play by Smith, Peppers no surprise to Delhomme

daringantt@carolina.rr.comJanuary 8, 2009 

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has an uncanny ability to make superstar catches almost every game.

FILE, JEFF SINER • THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

CHARLOTTE -- Come playoff time, the Panthers know what to expect from wide receiver Steve Smith.

Then again, they know what to expect from him each day, which may be the secret.

In seven postseason games, Smith has 45 catches for 739 yards and six touchdowns. The receptions and yards are the most ever by an NFL player in his first seven playoff games.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme's hardly surprised by those numbers, since he's long been witness to what makes Smith so dangerous.

"I think the biggest thing is just the competitive drive he has," Delhomme said Wednesday. "One, he's extremely fast, extremely explosive and he has outstanding hands. He can get separation from guys. But it's just a mindset he takes when he gets on the field, be it practice or a game. That, to me, is what makes the great ones.

"That's what the great ones do. When the ball's in the air, it's their football. And just the competing. That's what makes him what he is."

Delhomme said Smith runs at the same tempo in practices and games, which helps him as a player, but also sets an example for the rest of the team. Delhomme said the Panthers are fortunate to have elite players such as Smith and defensive end Julius Peppers who'll work that way.

"We have a lot of guys like that," Delhomme said. "They're intense in a good way. It's competition in a good way. One, he makes the defensive backs better, and two, he's making everybody better. Because when your superstar works the way he does -- like Julius does, he works at practice -- they don't take off, they don't coast, they don't look for a day off.

"To me, that says more than any thing else."

INJURY UPDATE: Now the truth can finally be revealed.

The Panthers were almost completely healthy for practice Wednesday, with defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) and Damione Lewis (shoulder) practicing fully, along with right tackle Jeff Otah (toe). The only player missing practice was right guard Geoff Hangartner (ankle).

Coach John Fox was able to put his team through a workout the day before without revealing their status, but with the first official report to the league, the signs are good.

"We had a little hiatus, but we got them back," Fox said of his starting defensive linemen. "That was a good reason for the bye. So we should be at full strength."

Of the group, Kemoeatu's the farthest along, as he hoped to play in the regular season finale against New Orleans. But Lewis said Wednesday he wasn't sure he'd have been available if the Panthers hadn't won there to secure a bye week. He strained his shoulder in New York on Dec. 21 while fighting off a double-team, since that was the first game Kemoeatu missed.

Otah's been hilariously nonchalant about his problem. When pressed on the nature of his injury, he said he the training staff "said I bruised the bottom of it or something like that."

He was quick to add: "I'm back to 100 percent now."

EXTRA POINT: A day after getting their attention with a fast-paced, fully padded practice, the Panthers eased back on the equipment Wednesday, going back into the shorts and shells they had been wearing to practice since Nov. 26.

Going back into pads for the first time since Thanksgiving was as much a psychological ploy as anything, as Fox was ready to throw the switch back into the 'on' position after the bye week.

daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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