CHARLOTTE -- Panthers quarterback David Carr hasn't been here long, hasn't acquired the deep understanding of the nuances of their offense or their personnel.
He's figured out one thing quickly: He needs to get to know Steve Smith, know him well, and do it quickly. Since Carr figures to play this week and likely at least one more -- it's no coincidence that starter Jake Delhomme mentioned the Oct. 21 bye week when discussing the timing of a potential return -- he knows developing a chemistry with Smith is essential.
"Somehow, I need to get a little brainwave going between me and some of the wideouts," Carr said. "I told Smitty, 'If you're not talking to me this week, then we have problems. I should be in your ear all week and know exactly what you're thinking next week and you should feel the same way.' It will be better next week. That was one of the worst games I've played in a while. I was never comfortable back there and we never really got in sync."
Smith's struggling with a backup quarterback is nothing new. In the three games last year with Chris Weinke at the helm, he caught a combined 10 passes for 123 yards and no scores. Weinke throwing for a team-record 423 yards in one of those games (against the N.Y. Giants, when Smith had five catches for 56 yards) underscores how tough it is for him when he's apart from Delhomme.
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Last week, Smith had five catches for 32 yards in the loss to Tampa Bay, and was frustrated at the inability to get him the ball in better positions to make plays.
Partly, the lack of a groove came because Smith and any of the backups seldom work together. Receivers rotate during training camp, but Smith didn't take many reps with Carr and the second team. And even when Carr started in the preseason, Smith didn't play. So last week's practice marked the longest time they'd ever tried to communicate much, and it's clear they're not fluent yet.
"I was thinking a certain way, he was thinking a certain way, and we just not thinking about it, didn't realize, we haven't played together in a really long time," Smith said. "We've just got to get on the same page. Practice is totally different from the game. Different tendencies, the way teams play me. We have to get on the same page, talk things through. We had an in-depth conversation Monday, talked today, every day in practice we're talking about working with each other -- not because I think he's the future or not going to be the future, but the bottom line is, he's the guy that's in there right now."
No play epitomized their lack of communication quite like the fourth-down play against Tampa Bay, when Smith ran a quick route and Carr aired one out that missed him by 20 yards or so. "There were more," Carr admitted, "but they didn't stand out as much."
As a result, they've spent more time together in practice this week talking about things, discussing specific situations.
"If we went out there and cruised and won on Sunday, those things wouldn't have come up," Carr added. "So better now than later."
Specifically, Smith read the way cornerback Phillip Buchanon was leaning and sat on his route, breaking it off well short of the original pattern as he's been trained to do. Delhomme probably sees it and dumps it down for the first down. Carr never did, but is working on figuring out Smith's intricacies.
"He's so talented as far as his routes and his awareness on the field," Carr said of Smith. "Sometimes he'll get in and out of a route because he'll see something that you see, too, but most receivers will take their time and they'll eventually get to that spot, whereas he sees it and he's there."
Carr and Smith have practically been double-dating all week to get to know each other, knowing that's the best chance the Panthers have.
"He's a good guy, he's very receptive, he wants to win and he wants to do it right," Carr said. "Just him being open to me has been the best thing for me because if he's not and he's going to shut you out, it makes it hard for me. Because we're going to have to work on these routes. Regardless of how long I'm in there for.
"It's something we're going to have to get right, or else we're not going to win football games. And he understands that. And that's what's been nice for me because he's been very open about calling me any time of the day, I've been talking to him all day today at practice, so it's been better."