Carolina Panthers

Team suspends Smith for two games following fight with teammate Lucas

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett waves to fans in the stands during Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett waves to fans in the stands during Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday.

CHARLOTTE -- Steve Smith wasn't there, and won't be there.

Ken Lucas will be back, sooner rather than later, but the gesture he witnessed Saturday "overwhelmed" him, according to quarterback Jake Delhomme.

The Carolina Panthers punctuated Saturday's Fan Fest scrimmage by announcing that Smith would be suspended for two regular season games after his fight with Lucas on Friday.

Lucas suffered a broken nose but no long-term injuries. He came into the locker room before the scrimmage, and Delhomme said Lucas was touched when every player on the roster went up and shook his hand.

Now, they're going to line up for Smith to start making things right.

The star wide receiver is expected back into camp tonight with the rest of the team, and wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said he expects to hear an apology soon.

"The first thing he needs to do is to come in and talk to the team," Muhammad said Saturday afternoon. "I'm pretty sure he's got that somewhere on his schedule. Obviously, we're off tonight and we'll be back down to Spartanburg tomorrow, so I wouldn't expect it to last much longer than that."

Neither Smith nor Lucas were available for comment Saturday.

Coach John Fox, in explaining the suspension, said no consideration was given to the potential competitive disadvantage it would put the team in games at San Diego and at home against Chicago.

"What he did was wrong, we take it very serious, and he's being punished severely for it," Fox said. "I don't think you balance. You try to do what's fair. It's something that's inexcusable and that's the punishment. It's a pretty steep, severe punishment."

In addition to the two games off, Smith will also lose $205,882, the prorated portion of his $1.75 million base salary for this year. Fox bypassed the chance to say whether Smith was on a "zero tolerance" policy, saying the conditions would be handled "internally."

General manager Marty Hurney, who along with Fox delivered the news to Smith on Saturday morning at the stadium, said they were mindful of the past in doling out punishment. Smith was suspended for one game in 2002 for punching teammate Anthony Bright, and tackle Jeremy Bridges was suspended for two games last year after he was arrested for waving a gun at a stripper the night before training camp.

"It's hard because there's no formula for something like this," Hurney said. "We wanted to come up with a fair number, and also something that holds up to what we've done before.

"He realizes he's made a mistake, and he's remorseful."

That was the word of the day, since Delhomme said he got a "remorseful text" message from Smith on Friday night.

But the biggest question that remains is how Smith will be accepted upon his return.

In the heat of the moments after their mid-morning brawl, a number of defensive players clearly wanted a piece of Smith, to the point Fox had to instruct players that there would be no retaliation.

So more so than getting ready for Week 3, Smith has to start mending fences.

"Without a doubt," Delhomme replied when asked if Smith would be accepted. "I think there will be some people upset, and rightfully so. And I promise you Steve knows that. But he will be accepted. I don't think there's any doubt.

"I have a couple of kids ... and sometimes you get mad at your kid and you can't understand why they do something. But you don't love them any less. That is how we feel about Steve. It was an unfortunate incident. Had it been another player we would feel the same way. But he's ours and I'm glad he is ours."

Likewise, tackle Jordan Gross said Smith would be welcomed back "with open arms."

"That's what relationships are about," Gross said. "Forgiving and moving on."

Of course, those decisions are going to be made by individuals, some of them who were clearly furious with Smith.

Linebacker Jon Beason, who pulled Smith out of the scrum of players after the incident, indicated it's going to take time.

"I think that's up to the individual really," Beason said. "If it's two games, when he comes back, I'm sure people will accept him back. I'm pretty sure Steve's going to work hard to earn that trust back."

Muhammad said there was no question the issue was "a distraction" for the team, but the key will be moving forward together.

"We're marching forward from this; all the guys on this team are waiting to see how we're all going to respond to this," the veteran receiver said. "There's going to be mixed emotions about what's going to happen. I think the leaders on this team are going to have to do a good job of keeping this team together, keeping the unity of the team. Guys need to feel like they have an equal voice and there's camaraderie.

"The most important thing is having that team camaraderie. So we'll be working on making sure that we maintain that cohesiveness."

Getting back into that club's going to be tricky for Smith, and it's going to take painful work to earn admission.

Muhammad, one of the few guys here Smith confides in, said the sting of having to face his friends and family will be as painful as the time away.

"I definitely think it's affecting him," Muhammad said. "More than anything, to have to face his family, and the let-down that is to his family and the people on this team, the people that count on him. People in the organization and fans, a lot of people put a lot of trust and respect in Steve.

"Earning their trust and working toward regaining that respect, is something that I'm pretty sure he's going to be working hard and diligently to do."

Today, The Herald begins counting down the top 5 most popular Panthers players of all time, as chosen by visitors to The fifth most popular player is Kevin Greene, a linebacker who played with the Panthers in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Look for a poster page highlighting Greene's Panthers years on page 7D.

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