In a startling admission — let's face it, anything he admits is startling — Panthers coach John Fox said WR Steve Smith's punt return Sunday was a test drive for the playoffs.
Smith returned two punts last year and nine in 2006, far from his days as a Pro Bowl return man in 2001. And while Mark Jones has been nothing if not adequate (11.36 yards per return, just short of the franchise record of 11.50 set by Winslow Oliver in 1996), Smith presents a unique opportunity.
“I think he’s a guy that’s been pretty adequate at that position,” Fox said. “We didn’t want the playoffs to be the first time he did it. He’s practiced it in practice, but there’s nothing like being out there in a game, and we wanted to get a look at that in a game situation.”
Smith has chafed at such duties in the past, and they're not going to do it every time. But the fact they're looking makes it clear they're leaving no stone unturned.