CHARLOTTE -- As David Carr's back loosens up, the Carolina Panthers' offense might as well.
Carr practiced fully Wednesday and is likely to start this week against Tennessee, considering Vinny Testaverde was held out of practice with his Achilles problem.
"He was well enough to play last week," coach John Fox said of Carr, who came in for the second half against Indianapolis. "Like I said, there aren't many players out there that are 100 percent at this stage of the season.
"He looked sharp in practice today. I think he had a good day's preparation both in the classroom and out on the field."
The encouraging news was the way Carr felt during practice, with the hope he's finally well enough to air one out.
"I didn't know how I'd feel going out there, but it loosened up for me and it kind of gave me a little more confidence to throw the ball down the field," Carr said. "Guys made some plays. Now we've just got to transition it into Sunday."
Doing so would solve a few of Carr's and the Panthers' problems at once.
First, they'll need to throw well this week, since Tennessee has the league's best rush defense, allowing just 64.3 yards per game. But Carr admitted he hasn't really felt like he could get the ball downfield since suffering compression fractures in his lower back in the Panthers' Oct. 7 game at New Orleans.
The Panthers' offense this season has lacked the dramatic downfield plays of past years. Though perception had them as a grind-it-out offense during the Dan Henning era, they ranked in the top 10 in the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more each year from 2002-05.
Through seven games this year, they have 11 such plays.
Indianapolis leads the league with seven big pass plays allowed, and Tampa Bay's second with 11. Those two games make up the bulk of Carr's playing time, which partially explains why he has three.
His longest pass of the year was a 38-yarder to Keary Colbert in his first game action against Atlanta, with the other two a 27-yarder to tight end Jeff King and a 24-yarder to running back DeAngelo Williams.
Notice anything missing?
Carr's acknowledged his need to get on the same page with Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, who's caught 10 passes for 89 yards from him this year. The two had several animated conversations (with Smith doing most of the talking) last weekend, and Carr said he thinks he's now in a better spot to do what obviously needs to be done.
And if he's not able to, he expects to hear from his teammate again.
"Steve, he definitely has his opinions on things," Carr said. "How do you not trust the guy when he comes to you the way he does? He's very aggressive, but he's not coming at you with disrespect. We've been close friends since I got here. But at the same time, he knows what he wants to get done and I'm right on the same page with him."
Carr said it was much different than his days in Houston, when lead receiver Andre Johnson was much quieter, as Carr found out not long after he arrived.
"I've been to his house where he's done it," Carr said of the impromptu meetings. "It just happens. You're in the pool and something happens, he's going to flash on you. And I enjoy that because I like guys that care."
Smith remains the focus of opposing defenses, and Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck rejected the notion Smith was slumping.
"It's hard to be a consistent wide receiver when you don't have a consistent quarterback in there," Bulluck said. "He's on his third quarterback in seven games so it's kind of tough to get a rhythm and get it going with the quarterback when they are shuffling all the time."
That's why it's important for Carr to get to know Smith, but mostly to get well.
He was smiling because he's feeling better than he has in nearly a month. He originally said he hoped to be 100 percent by the Colts game, but said after the fact he was more like 80 percent. He's getting closer to the goal, at any rate.
"I said that a couple of weeks ago and it didn't work out, but I'm always optimistic in that regard," he said. "Yeah, I feel like I'll be 100 percent, but I might not be. The way I felt today, I could play just fine."
When asked if there's a chance he might have to play through back pain all year, he acknowledged the possibility.
"I hope not, but that is a reality," Carr said. "It could happen. But if it continues on this track for the next couple of days, I should be feeling pretty good by Sunday."