Coach on Steve Smith’s finger injury: ‘He’s got nine other ones’

jperson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 20, 2013 

Carolina Panthers 2013 Football Headshots

Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers is listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints with a finger injury.

UNCREDITED — AP

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith is listed as probable for Sunday’s NFC South clash with New Orleans.

What’s less certain is how Smith will fare catching passes just a few days after dislocating the middle finger on his left hand.

“He’s got nine other ones. That’s the way I look at it,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Friday. “Steve will find a way, believe me. But you never know.”

Smith was limited in Friday’s practice after sitting out Thursday.

He caught several soft passes from receivers coach Ricky Proehl on the sideline during the portion of practice open to the media. Smith later caught a throw from Cam Newton, a lob at the end of a drill, before the team broke for stretching.

Smith was injured near the end of Wednesday’s practice when a tipped Newton pass struck the tip of his finger, dislocating it. Smith had the finger bandaged Thursday, but wasn’t sure whether trainers would splint it for Sunday’s game.

Smith, 34, is tied with tight end Greg Olsen for the team lead with 63 receptions. Though Smith’s 11.1 yards-per-catch average is 5 yards off his mark (16.1) from last season, he remains one of Newton’s favorite targets, particularly on third down.

Smith is tied for 16th in the league with 21 third-down receptions, including 18 that resulted in first downs.

Safety dance: The Panthers’ platoon at strong safety has turned into a one-man show of late, with veteran Quintin Mikell getting the bulk of the reps he used to share with undrafted rookie Robert Lester.

Mikell played all 62 defensive snaps last week against the Jets, and Lester was in for two plays in place of free safety Mike Mitchell. But Lester, tied for second on the team with three interceptions, could see more action against the Saints.

“A lot of it has come with him coming back from the (ankle) injury. But we’ve worked him a lot more this week and I expect him to play a little bit more,” Rivera said.

Mikell has had at least five tackles the past three games. He collected one of the two sacks on Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the Week 14 meeting in New Orleans, forcing a fumble the Saints recovered.

“That’s one of the things you have to look at, too. Quintin has played well,” Rivera added. “But I think Robert, the work he’s put in the last couple of weeks, I think he’s getting back up to where we need him to play.”

Preparing for rain: The forecast for Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff is for temperatures in the low 70s, with a 50 percent chance of rain and an increasing chance of showers throughout the afternoon. Rivera was asked how the conditions would affect the game.

“Hopefully, it would affect (the Saints) adversely, which would be positive for us,” Rivera said. “We’re going to do what we do, and they’re going to do what they do. If it becomes a real sloppy situation, it could change things.”

The Saints have lost their past two road games, and are 3-4 away from the Superdome this season.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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