Carolina Panthers

Smith ready for whatever team needs him to do

CHARLOTTE -- Call them wrinkles or whatever you want, but the Carolina Panthers know they're going to have to get creative to keep scoring points this season.

Toward that end, wide receiver Steve Smith said simply Wednesday that he was ready for whatever they threw at him.

"My job is to do something with the ball when I get it; that's my job," Smith said flatly when asked about the new looks they showed last week. "I'm always excited to play on Sundays. To focus on what is being done or not being done, I really don't pay too much attention to that."

While the Panthers have used him as a runner before, they showed a direct-snap look and tossed to Smith, who lateraled to DeAngelo Williams for a big gain.

It was when he lined up under center, with quarterback Vinny Testaverde split wide to the left, that Testaverde joked he could have turned receiver.

"I'm open a lot of times, and sometimes Vinny don't throw me the ball," Smith said, cracking a grin. "We're all open in our minds, we're all legends in our own minds. I don't know if he'd have caught one of my heaters."

The 49ers weren't fooled, since they didn't even bother sending anyone with the aged quarterback.

"I would say I was wide-open since no one covered me to begin with," Testaverde said. "But have you seen Steve throw? I'm not even going to compare it to my left arm."

Seriously, the Panthers know they need to involve Smith however they can, since there hasn't been much support for him this year, and defenses continue to plan against him. But the smallish receiver shrugged when asked if he was concerned about putting himself at additional risk when running the ball, as he did twice for 21 yards.

"It's risky out there in general," Smith said. "Whether it's punt return, kickoff return, playing linebacker. Injuries happen every area of the field. Some guys get hurt without being touched. To put a focus on, 'If I line up here I'm at a risk of injury,' that's just circumstance."

• FEELING GOOD: The sun came out near the end of practice, but it looked like it was shining inside the Panthers' facility, the mood lighter after they broke their five-game losing streak.

"Yeah, I know, right?," Williams said when asked about the new vibe. "It does. It really does. Last week we were down and out, people were kicking us and poking us with a stick to see if we were alive.

"We got our life back last week, and we're revitalized and ready to go."

Of course, being a mere game out of the final NFC wild card spot helps, and Williams admitted he had peeked at the standings, which show eight teams in a clump at either 6-6 or 5-7 and no team eliminated yet.

"I have," he said. "I mean, we'd be lying if we said we didn't. We all, from time to time, glance over our shoulder."

• VINNY RISING: Testaverde's two touchdown passes last weekend moved him out of a tie with Joe Montana into sole possession of eighth place on the league's all-time list. He now has 275 career touchdown passes, five of them with the Panthers.

He'd have to get on a real tear to go any higher this year, as Johnny Unitas is seventh at 290.

Of course, there's no real reason to believe he wouldn't come back for a 22nd NFL season.

"I'd have to look at that," he said when asked how he'd react if the Panthers offered to bring him back. "It depends when and for how long. I'm always open to entertaining those kind of thoughts."

On returning as Jake Delhomme's backup, he replied, "Yeah. I've done it before. I'd be 45, though. I'm just happy to get through one week now."

• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers held four players out of practice, including three starters: running back DeShaun Foster (head), linebacker Na'il Diggs (calf), safety Chris Harris (shoulder) and wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (knee). Coach John Fox said Foster's injury was not labeled a concussion by the medical staff.

Foster seemed even more sure of that.

"I thought it was my toe?," he asked when asked how his head felt. "I'm all right. I'm OK. Just a rest day, basically. I'll be practicing tomorrow."

Fans probably won't have to worry about ticket invoices for potential playoff games, since the Panthers are three games out of the division lead with four to play. The league instructs teams to send out invoices if there's a chance at home games in the playoffs, but the Panthers' only realistic shot is at a wild card.

Panthers director of ticket sales Phil Youtsey said there were "no plans" to send invoices at this time. "They won't be getting anything unless we tighten this thing up," he added.

The Panthers sent out the invoices last year when their chances were slim, offering to apply the payment to next year's balance if they fell short. Many complained with the bills coming just before Christmas, but the Panthers offered to refund the money or apply them to next year's season-ticket balance.

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