Former Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith has seen everything, and very little, change

jjones@charlotteobserver.comJune 13, 2014 

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Former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith signs shirts at his annual football camp at Ardrey Kell High School on Friday. Smith said some asked if he would still run the camp in Charlotte after being released by the Panthers and signing with the Baltimore Raves. His response? “Why wouldn’t I?”

JEFF WILLHELM — jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com

In the months since he signed with the Baltimore Ravens, Steve Smith has had to switch from Time Warner Cable to Comcast and learn the new channel numbers.

Instead of simply replacing the peanut butter and jelly in the pantry at his usual Charlotte store, he’s had to get them for the first time at a new store in Baltimore.

Things are different for the former Carolina Panthers wide receiver, but he maintains his home in Charlotte, and this week he hosted 400 kids in grades 1-8 for his annual football camp at Ardrey Kell High.

“Just because you temporarily relocate somewhere for employment doesn’t necessarily mean that all the things you’ve done, you just put them to the side,” said Smith, who was drafted by the Panthers in 2001 and played his first 13 NFL seasons with Carolina. “I have commitments and responsibilities that I have. I call it responsibilities because there are 400 kids. We’ve got 44 coaches here.

“They could be with their families or doing something else, but they chose to help me do this. There are a lot of moving parts that you can’t just push to the side because I’m not a Carolina Panther anymore.”

The Panthers released Smith in March, and sources told the Observer that general manager Dave Gettleman viewed Smith as a distraction and wanted to allow quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly to lead the team.

Shortly after his release, Smith signed a three-year, $11.5 million contract with Baltimore. But Smith wouldn’t pack up his Charlotte home to move north.

“A kid here came up and told me I got traded,” Smith said with a laugh. “You don’t go through all that. You just say, I’m here. This is where I’m at. I’m just temporarily playing somewhere else.

“I get a lot of questions. ‘Are you still going to do your camp here?’ My reply is, ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t I?’ And I think people expected me to hightail it out of here.”

Why would they expect that?

“Because I think people think they actually really know me, and they have a sense of who I am,” Smith said. “But just because you watch a guy on Sunday in a very aggressive sport, that’s not how they live their life every single day. I’m not going to hightail it out of here. I’m not going to run. I’m still here.”

Smith said he doesn’t harbor any bitterness toward the Panthers organization because he talked with the “important people, the people that matter.” He was complimentary of and thankful for team owner and founder Jerry Richardson.

Smith said he spoke with former teammate and current Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl on Thursday. Smith even recently spoke with former GM Marty Hurney.

“Just because you don’t have a job anymore with those people, that doesn’t mean the conversations stop,” Smith said. “Dave has been in that organization for a full year. He’s gotten to know me in that short term and I’ve gotten to know him. But there were people in that organization that when I got drafted, their kids were 7 or 8 years old, and now they’re in college. So there’s a lot longer time of relationship building that you don’t compare.”

Though their friendship is just 2 years old, Kuechly attested to Smith keeping in touch. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was the co-host of Smith’s camp this week.

Kuechly spent Friday morning playing defensive back against young kids lining up as receivers. When he spoke to the media with Smith to his right, Kuechly was as sweaty as he is coming off the Panthers’ practice field.

“Steve’s in Baltimore now, and say I’m in Baltimore in the offseason, or maybe in the bye week I’m up there and I’ll give Steve a call and go out to eat with him,” Kuechly said. “I think that’s one thing that’s cool. He’s on a different team now but that doesn’t mean Steve and I don’t talk to each other. It’s obvious that we still have a relationship.”

Smith may start a similar camp in Baltimore, but he doesn’t know yet. He said he’s been overwhelmed by the move and getting the lay of the land in a new city.

He likes the history of the city, and he’s drawn to the fans’ love for their team. When then-owner Robert Irsay moved the old Baltimore Colts franchise in the middle of the night in 1984, the city was left without a team until the Ravens arrived in 1996.

“They’re appreciative of their team because of what has happened in their history of NFL teams,” Smith said. “That’s been pretty cool to see.”

For seafood in Baltimore, Smith likes to go to Jimmy’s Famous Seafood. And in less than three months he’s already found Baltimore’s Hip Hop Fish & Chicken, a suitable replacement for Charlotte’s Price’s Chicken Coop.

In another three months, Smith will play his first regular-season game for a franchise other than the Panthers. Smith will face Carolina on Sept. 28 in Baltimore in a game where he promised “blood and guts everywhere.”

Panthers fans shouldn’t expect to see anything different from No. 89.

“If you’re asking if I’m going to spin the ball when I catch it, definitely. Highly intense? I’m not sure why that would change,” Smith said. “I’m still going to play ball. Some people may not like it, but I’m going to be the arrogant, cocky player I’ve always been.

“They may not like it, but that’s my style of play.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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