SPARTANBURG -- Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson knows he won't have Steve Smith at his disposal for the first two games this year. That doesn't mean they're not spending plenty of time together at camp.
The two have met to make sure the problems of a year ago don't crop up again, talking one-on-one to make sure they're speaking the same language.
"I think that the thing I think is important, and really it didn't change from last year, is to make sure we're being open with one another," Davidson said Thursday. "I think we've done a decent job of communicating and hopefully we'll continue to do so."
The mammoth coach and the diminutive receiver shared a lunch table earlier this week, as part of Smith's post-Ken Lucas contrition tour. As much as the team's rallied around Lucas after Smith broke his nose, it's easy to see an effort to keep Smith in the herd, to make sure he doesn't feel unwanted.
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It's not as if Smith and Davidson haven't talked. It's just the volume and the timing are different.
Smith's always had an interesting relationship with coordinators, always wondering if there weren't some other way he could be utilized. He realized after the fact that Dan Henning's "feed the stud" plan helped elevate him to star status, and you could tell there were times last year when he wasn't sure Davidson's method was working.
He's always voiced his concerns on the sidelines -- his shouting matches with Jake Delhomme are something of a joke between the two of them -- but often picked up the phone to the coaches' booth during games last season to voice his concerns.
Davidson thought about the question for a beat Thursday when asked whether he and Smith had a communication breakdown last year.
"You know, quite honestly, that's one you'd have to ask Steve about," Davidson said. "We've always tried to approach, as a whole staff now, that the players, we're always willing to listen to different ideas they have. It's important to us that they have some say in what we do. Typically, it's a lot better when we hear it on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday than on Sunday.
"And they understand that. It's important that they do understand that. But there's always been an open line of communication."
• STILL HAS THE FIRE: Speaking of Smith, Delhomme said he had little doubt his receiver would have the same fire when he returned from his latest anger-related suspension.
"I know the question you're saying, but when Steve came out of his mom, he had that edge," Delhomme said. "I truly believe that. Guys feed off Steve when Steve plays -- offensively, defensively, everybody feeds off Steve. That is just my opinion. I know when the lights come on, he will still be the same Steve.
"To me, that is innate. You either have it or you don't have it. I truly believe somebody can't work to get that way. You either want it or you don't want it. When you buckle those chin straps, especially in a game, ... Steve knows what type of effect he has on the football team."
• STRANGE SIGHT: We'd be remiss as a member of the football media if we didn't mention Brett Favre one more time. It's in the bylaws somewhere. So here goes.
Panthers linebacker Na'il Diggs, who played with Favre in Green Bay for six seasons, said it would be "different," seeing his old teammate playing for the New York Jets.
"I think he'll do fine," Diggs said. "He's going from Green Bay to New York. If anything, I think the off-the-field acclimation will probably be the most different for him. But he really stays to himself. I don't think he's going to be like a Joe Namath or anything like that. He's a bright guy. He's really into his family, a country boy playing football. He'll be fine."
While the bright lights of Metropolis are far different from Wisconsin (Green Bay's not much bigger than Spartanburg), Diggs said there's a chance Favre might be able to find his escape there.
"In Green Bay, every single person, kid, child, man, woman knew who he was no matter where he went," Diggs said. "In New York, you might find a couple people that might not recognize him. He might be able to slide through the radar a little better with the more people and crowds."
• HE'LL BE HERE ALL WEEK: Davidson, after years of being in New England where assistants didn't talk, seems to be warming up in terms of his dealings with the media. He even got off a few one-liners, as if he's taking his act to the Catskills when he leaves training camp.
At one point, Davidson was asked about his impressions of running back Jonathan Stewart.
"I don't really do impressions," Davidson said. "I'm kidding."
Then, when asked if Stewart's toe soreness affected his approach to things, he replied: "You know, I don't notice so much the toe soreness as he would, obviously."
All he really needed was to remind us to try the veal, and to remember to tip our waitresses.
• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers ended the Charles Spencer experiment Thursday, cutting the former Houston left tackle prospect. Coach John Fox said the knee injury that cost Spencer the previous 22 months wasn't really the problem, but his weight was.
Fox called it a "conditioning issue," and suggested there might be a point later when they'd consider bringing him back. They filled his spot by bringing back tackle Rueben Riley, the player they cut to make room for Spencer two weeks ago ...
Other than Spencer, there were 10 players who weren't able to take part in the day's only practice. Cornerback Chris Gamble (hamstring) was the only new one in the group, which includes receivers Ryne Robinson and D.J. Hackett, tight ends Gary Barnidge, Chris Conklin and Dante Rosario, defensive tackle Ian Scott, linebacker Jon Beason, safety Chris Harris and Lucas.