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Smith returns to Panthers, apologizes for punch

Smith returns to Panthers, apologizes for punch

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - A subdued Steve Smith apologized to his Carolina Panthers' teammates, coaches and fans Monday, three days after he punched teammate Ken Lucas at practice, leaving the starting cornerback with a broken nose that will require surgery.

Smith, who was suspended without pay for the first two regular-season games, spoke to reporters for about four minutes after his first practice with the team since the incident. He did not answer questions.

"I'm not going to get into who's right, who's wrong. I'm completely wrong," Smith said. "It was an asinine decision. And I'll move forward better than I probably have ever had to. It's the first time in my life that I really haven't forgiven myself."

Lucas also returned to the team Monday with a black left eye and swelling around his nose. While he said he accepted Smith's apology, the starting cornerback said he'll probably be sidelined two to three weeks.

"Depending on the surgery," Lucas said. "We're still waiting on the doctors to give us the timetable on when we're going to have this procedure done."

Smith never mentioned Lucas by name in his statement, made without notes. Nor did he explain the incident. During a break in Friday's practice, Smith punched Lucas after he had taken off his helmet and while Lucas was on one knee.

"I will not put myself into a position where I have to defend myself, to state my side of the story. There's no side," Smith said. "There's only one side, a lack of judgment on my part. That's really all I have to say. I have no excuse. All I have is the opportunity to gain the respect of my fans, to gain the respect of my family, gain the respect of my co-workers and gain the respect of the organization."

Smith was sent home from training camp after the incident, and did not practice Saturday. He rejoined the team Sunday night and apologized in a team meeting.

"He was very remorseful, and we accepted it," safety Chris Harris said. "We're moving on. We've got our eyes looking forward."

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Smith initially worked with the first team at Monday's practice. But it was clear things had changed.

Smith, who led the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns in 2005, didn't talk trash with defensive players. He never spun the ball on the turf after making catches, as he's done in the past. He said little at all to his teammates.

"I'm a fallen man. I'm a man that made a mistake," Smith said. "I plan to mend the bridges that I've burned and help rebuild the bridge, if I need to all by myself."

Smith will be allowed to practice and play in exhibition games before his suspension goes into effect a week before the Panthers' season opener. Smith will miss games at San Diego on Sept. 7 and the home opener against Chicago on Sept. 14, leaving Carolina without its top playmaker as it tries to end a streak of two consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.

"The good thing is that we were both man enough to come face to face and talk without any other kind of altercations," Lucas said. "We're bigger than that. Sometimes when emotions are involved, you do stupid things. ... For me being a Christian, I have a forgiving heart and I'm willing to move forward to help this team win this year."

It marks the second time Smith has been suspended for punching a teammate. He missed one game in 2002 after an altercation with practice-squad player Anthony Bright during a film session. Bright filed a civil suit which was eventually settled out of court, and Smith underwent counseling for anger management.

Smith and Lucas have routinely jawed at each other in practice, but never came to blows in view of reporters until Friday.

"We still have some more things to talk about as far as what can we do to be able to go out there and coexist on the same field, same team and be productive and help this team win this year," Lucas said. "Only two men can do that, and feel like we have what it takes in order to do so."

(Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Mike Cranston Sports Writer


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