Carolina Panthers

Who'll get it to 89?

Panthers receivers Keary Colbert, left, Ryne Robinson, center, and Steve Smith sit on the sideline against Indianapolis.
Panthers receivers Keary Colbert, left, Ryne Robinson, center, and Steve Smith sit on the sideline against Indianapolis.

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers know they need to get the ball to Steve Smith.

Knowing who's going to be available to get it to him would be a nice first step.

The Panthers, already with two quarterbacks on injured reserve this year, including starter Jake Delhomme, won't know until later this week whether they'll have Vinny Testaverde or David Carr available to start Sunday at Tennessee.

"There are a lot of frustrations when you do this for a living," coach John Fox replied. "This is that hand we're dealt and so we just do our best to get the guys ready. Whether it's been Jake, whether it's been Vinny or even David Carr, it's just being able to stay healthy.

"You prefer to stay healthy because it builds continuity. A lot of teams in this league deal with it. We've got to be one to deal with it, also."

That's the problem right now -- they can't build continuity because there's no guarantee whichever quarterback they pick will be able to practice Wednesday.

After being benched because his back wasn't 100 percent, Carr came back to finish last week's loss to Indianapolis when Testaverde developed tendinitis in his right Achilles tendon.

"I don't believe so," Fox said when asked if the back problem limited Carr. "I don't think he was 100 percent, but I'm sure there were a bunch of guys that weren't 100 percent. There are guys playing with broken hands and whatnot, so it's something that football players deal with."

Carr estimated himself at 80 percent, and said his biggest problems came when he had to run.

Fox offered no update on Testaverde, other than the elder quarterback has been icing the area since he was signed three weeks ago, and that he didn't know Testaverde was unable to continue until just before the start of the second half.

"He couldn't push off of it to really get velocity on the ball," Fox said. "To be honest with you, I didn't notice it really until late in the half."

Testaverde, during a break between treatments Monday, said he didn't know if he'd be available. He was walking with a limp and carrying a walking boot, but said the soreness might be a good sign, in a twisted way. He knows about Achilles injuries, having torn his left one in the 1999 opener.

"When I did my left one, there was no soreness and nothing wrong," Testaverde said. "It was just one bad step and it popped. If I remember correctly, after that happened in '99, I remember the doctor saying if you do have tendinitis or soreness in your Achilles, 99 percent you won't have a problem with a rupture or anything like that.

"So I'm not worrying about that. Just staying in the training room and trying to get healthy and go from there."

The one thing broken is the ability of the offense to put the ball in the hands of Smith, their one dynamic player on that side of the ball. He was frustrated after not catching a pass in the second half last week, and only two for the day. That led to at least a pair of meetings with Carr, in which Smith was doing most of the talking.

The Panthers clearly dreamed up some new ways to get him the ball (sending him in motion once and lining him up in the backfield), but after Testaverde left the game, Smith was a non-factor.

In parts of four games with Carr, Smith has 10 catches for 89 yards and a score.

He's caught 12 passes for 154 yards (12.8 per) and a score from Testaverde in parts of two games. Neither compares to Delhomme, who averaged 18.1 yards per completion to Smith before being lost for the year with an elbow injury.

"I don't know that there's a level of disconnect," Fox said. "Sometimes you're victimized by the score of the game and the type of approach the opponent takes. Some of those things were not conducive to getting Steve the ball.

"We've got to look at that a little closer. With a week's work and depending on who the quarterback is, practice has a lot to do with tying that up a little bit."

Carr said as tempting as it was, he had concerns about trying to force things Smith's way.

"That's one of the things you have to guard against as a quarterback," Carr said. "There were probably some times I could have thrown it into him, but who knows what happens. Or you can throw to the open guy in front of you, gain 10 yards and go onto the next play.

"If that's what they're going to give you, that's what you've got to take. You can't get locked into making sure you get him the ball all the time -- although he is our best player. Still, like I said yesterday, the defense knows that, too, and they're going to make sure they do everything to take him away."

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