Panthers' new offense gets welcome reception from Smith

Panthers' new offense gets welcome reception from Smith

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- One of the most baffling aspects of the Carolina Panthers' disappointing season was the inability to get the ball to Steve Smith.

The problem led to the firing of offensive coordinator Dan Henning and the release of Keyshawn Johnson, who was brought in to prevent teams from double- and triple-teaming Smith.

Now there's a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Davidson. And after only two days of minicamp, he's installed an offense that puts Smith in motion more.

"All the new wrinkles, they're interesting," Smith said Saturday. "If you want to compare it, it's like sitting in coach and then moving up to first class."

Smith's criticism of Henning came despite Henning constantly talking about "feeding the stud." That's how he described Smith, who led the NFL with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdown in 2005 -- with Henning calling the plays.

But Seattle was able to beat Carolina in the NFC championship game by using constant double and triple teams to shut down Smith.

Johnson caught 70 balls last season, but Smith wasn't as dominating. He missed the first two games with a hamstring injury and finished with 20 fewer catches, 400 fewer receiving yards and four fewer touchdowns in a season that ended 8-8 for Carolina.

In their four-game losing streak late in the season that knocked them out of the playoff race, Smith didn't have a 100-yard receiving game. Next season, Smith may have to go back to carrying the Panthers' receiving game after Johnson's sudden release.

"I was surprised," said Smith, who at 28 most likely will be the oldest receiver on the regular-season roster. "Obviously, we've got to get these young guys prepared and get them to step in line and step up to the task at hand, which is being a professional at a relatively young age in this league."

Dwayne Jarrett, the Panthers' second-round pick, is considered a Johnson clone, only younger. A possession receiver without great speed, the 6-foot-4 Jarrett could end up starting in the opener against St. Louis. But at minicamp he's been working with the second team.

"Right now, he's not standing out because he's thinking (too much)," Smith said. "I think we'll see a step up in him and all the other guys. Because of the new installments and new wrinkles in the offense. I think once those guys get it down pat, they'll be better."

Jarrett, the 45th pick in the draft, has tried to stay away from the Johnson comparisons.

"The team felt that was the best decision, I guess, and I'm just here doing what I'm supposed to do and working hard," Jarrett said.

Drew Carter, who came on late last season, and Keary Colbert, who has been a disappointment since being drafted in the second round in 2004, will have their chance now that Johnson is gone. If Jarrett starts, one of them will need to become the No. 3 receiver.

Smith was attending a friend's wedding in California last weekend when he found out from a text message that Carolina took Jarrett. He didn't see Johnson's release coming.

"It's just how it is," Smith said. "I wasn't happy or sad. It was just like, 'Oh, OK.' I still got to come out here and play football."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-05-05-07 1334MDT

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