Panthers receiver Steve Smith gets a little annoyed when someone suggests Cam Newton's arrival re-energized him.
It's nothing against Newton, who Smith believes is a great quarterback.
But Smith believes there was something more fundamental in helping him earn a fifth Pro Bowl berth - namely, an offense that got him the ball.
"You can't charge up a battery that's already charged," Smith said this week in a phone interview. "And that's what I feel like. I just think I was sitting around waiting to be used, to be utilized."
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Under first-year coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Smith said all of the Panthers' offensive play-makers were put in positions that allowed them to prosper in 2011. Newton and tailback Jonathan Stewart thrived in the read-option package; DeAngelo Williams took snaps nearly every week out of the Wildcat formation.
But the turnaround for Smith was striking. A year ago, frustrated by a quarterback who couldn't deliver him the ball and an organization that seemed to be going backward, Smith approached owner Jerry Richardson and asked for a trade.
Smith is talking about playing four more years as he makes preparations to fly his family and the rest of the Panthers' receivers to Hawaii following a season in which he surpassed Mushin Muhammad as the franchise leader in receptions and receiving yards.
"I've always looked for reasons to be interested, to be engaged, to shoot for something," Smith said. "Things changed around here dramatically. Not just for myself, but collectively for everyone."
A season of discontent
Smith appeared disinterested at best during the Panthers 2-14 season in 2010. John Fox was on his way out, Matt Moore was on injured reserve and rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen was struggling in the pocket.
Smith was targeted 99 times last season (compared with 129 in 2011), but caught just 46 passes - a career low for a full season. He vented his frustrations on the sideline, in the locker room and at Richardson's house.
Smith indicated his teams of choice were San Diego and Baltimore, and the Panthers countered by saying they wouldn't give Smith away. Ultimately, the Panthers received no suitable offers and Smith remained in Charlotte.
Beginning with an eight-catch, 178-yard day at Arizona in Week 1, Smith posted three 100-yard receiving games the first four weeks. He didn't have a 100-yard game in 2010.
A late start
Because of the lockout and small window for teams to trade and sign players, Smith said he didn't know he was staying in Charlotte for sure until July 27, two days before players reported to training camp.
Only then did he get a copy of Chudzinski's playbook. One look and Smith knew it was nothing like what the Panthers ran under Fox and coordinator Jeff Davidson.
"When I got my playbook Wednesday night, it was pretty much a whole different ballgame," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, man, I'm actually going to have to study.' "
The week before the opener in Phoenix, Smith took his playbook home and was studying it while he iced his legs in his bedroom. Including all three receiver positions, Smith counted 127 different pass plays - and those were just what Chudzinski had in mind for first and second downs.
Playbook equals production
Aided by a dynamic offense and a strong-armed quarterback, Smith finished fifth in the league with 1,394 receiving yards, the third-highest total of his 11-year career.
Rivera said Smith was a big part of the Panthers' offense, which jumped from last in the league in 2010 to seventh this past season.
Smith, who will turn 33 in May, is entering the final year of his contract. Having avoided serious injuries throughout his career, the 5-9, 185-pound Smith believes he can be effective for several more years.
"I hope I can play four more years at a pretty decent level. I'm not the prototype receiver, so I'm kind of breaking the mold, anyway," Smith said. "If I keep taking care of my body. I haven't really had any really bad injuries, except for (breaking) my forearm and my ankle. I take a pretty good pounding during the game - many car wrecks - and my body turns over pretty good. I've had aches and pains, but nothing extreme."
Trent Dilfer, an ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback, thinks Smith has held up physically because of his size.
"The long, linear guys wear out faster than the shorter, compact athletes. Their bodies endure more," Dilfer said. "He has that body stature that leads to sustainability."
Aloha, Pro Bowl
Smith's plans for his week in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl include a stop by the family farm of Panthers rookie wideout Kealoha Pilares, who grew up in Hawaii.
A week in Honolulu would put just about anyone at ease. But Smith clearly is in a better place than he was a year ago.
"From the outside looking in, it is kind of different," he said. "One day you're on top of the world, the next day you're at the bottom. And two weeks later you're at the top, 10 times better."