Steve Smith revitalized with Cam Newton, new staff

Steve Smith is on pace to become the all-time leading receiver for the Carolina Panthers this season.

To think that during the spring there was considerable doubt whether or not the veteran would return with the franchise. Many thought Smith wanted out in order to get on a team with a better shot at postseason success. Others felt the Panthers, in a rebuilding mode, would be happy to deal him for a draft pick in order to aid the turnaround.

But Smith has stayed and it’s a good thing for quarterback Cam Newton as he provides the offense with a home run threat. He’s been a model player for first-year head coach Ron Rivera.

“He came in and saw me just before the work stoppage and he told me his feelings,” Rivera said. “He said he just wanted to get to know me and he wanted to talk to Chud (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski) and out wide receivers coach Fred Graves, who he knew from back in his day.

“And, I told him, ‘Look, Steve, there is nothing we can do right now. We’ve got to go through with this whole process and then when we’re done we’ll come back and talk again. But for now I can’t tell you what we’re going to do because we’re going to go through the process.’ When it all opened up, he had a chance to meet Cam (Newton), he had an opportunity to be around his teammates, he came to an offseason workout and he saw all the energy that was going on and that was without the coaches. I think that helped revitalize him. He bought in. He’s been a good leader for the offense.”

Smith has 16 receptions for 349 yards (21.8 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, including a 77-yarder vs. Arizona in the season opener. Smith has 636 receptions for 9,233 yards in his career. He’s 63 receptions behind Muhsin Muhammad for the all-time franchise lead. But Smith needs only 23 yards to surpass Muhammad in yardage, something that should happen Sunday in a game against the Chicago Bears at Solder Field.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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