CHARLOTTE -- There were times during the preseason when Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith didn't know what to think.
There was an underlying excitement about their new offensive system, but after four preseason games where he was barely a factor, he wasn't sure.
Then he walked in this week, saw the playbook, and was pleased.
"I said 'OK, that's what I'm talking about,'" Smith said with a broad smile Thursday. "I called my wife and told her, 'This thing is nice.'"
There's been plenty of talk about the new wrinkles new coordinator Jeff Davidson had planned, but little evidence until Tuesday, when Smith saw what they're planning on running against St. Louis. And while he wasn't offering many specifics, you couldn't wipe the grin off his face.
"Some of it's there, some of it's not in this week," Smith said. "It's different, I'm telling you. I'm telling you, I can't say much more than that, but it's different. I like it, though."
The optimism was clearly contagious throughout the locker room. Running back DeAngelo Williams said the difference between the preseason plans and this one was "night and day." And as quarterback Jake Delhomme talked about the need for them to "develop our own personality," you could tell he thinks it's coming along.
"We've done some things, but this is my first test with Jeff as an offensive coordinator," Delhomme said. "This is new for me this week, knowing what's going to be different and how we're going to attack certain things. I'm learning, too. I like what we're doing. We'll see."
It's not just the skill position players, either. Right tackle Jordan Gross said the changes implemented thus far (including the much talked-about zone blocking elements) have the linemen excited, completing the set.
"If they're excited, I'm excited," Gross said. "It's definitely more of what I've been expecting from this offense. The preseason was what it was, and we definitely weren't working with a full set of tools every game. I'm expecting big things, and hopefully we'll get some big plays and be consistent throughout the day."
While Davidson's been installing and re-installing since April, this week was the first full test, the first chance to have the lot of it thrown at them, with specific preparations. That means more work, but if it means changing the result, they're willing.
"Definitely they're asking us to do a lot more, and focus on a lot more things," Gross said. "That's a good thing. That means there's a lot of preparation going in and really setting ourselves up to be successful.
"It's definitely not a vanilla offense now."
That discussion impacts no player more than Smith, who was productive last year (83 catches for 1,166 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games), but not the levels he had in the past.
That the Panthers don't have a sure thing at number-two receiver's not that daunting, since Smith had his best numbers the year he lacked a good complement, with 103 receptions for 1,563 yards and 12 scores in 2005.
That year, the question was how Smith responded to the constant double and occasional triple-teams. Until Keary Colbert or Drew Carter prove otherwise, that could still be the case.
"I don't know; I guess that's where the offensive coordinator comes in and the game plan comes in and to eliminate that," Smith said. "And how well they eliminate that, and how I handle the load of lining up at different positions will also dictate that."
Part of the reason Smith's a little unsure is because he wasn't asked to do any of it during the preseason. He didn't even play in the last game and only caught five balls in the other three games. But he thought back to what was being installed during minicamp in April, during their organized team activities in June and all the long days in Spartanburg.
In other circumstances, being held back so blatantly might have set him off, or at least chafed him.
But it all came back to him this week, when he saw what was coming.
"It wasn't tough being held back, it was tough with the anticipation of what we did in (practice) and what we were not doing once the games started," Smith said. "I was frustrated a little bit, saying 'What's going on?'
"They kept telling me to just be patient. Now it's OK, they kept their promise. Not that I doubted them, but it was kind of wait and see, and it came to fruition."