Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has enjoyed his most productive season in years, with 59 catches for 1,060 yards through 11 games. Most fans have credited the energizing presence of Cam Newton, but Smith said Wednesday that the rookie -- at least thus far -- is just the third-best quarterback he's played with during his 11 years with Carolina.
"I have to be honest, I would say Jake (Delhomme) is No. 1 because Jake's career is over here in Carolina. Cam, he's been in the league for about 15 minutes," Smith said on this week's "Dave Dameshek Football Program," which airs on NFL.com. "I think that's one of the things that the media does. They jump on a train too quick. But Jake played for a number of years, for various teams for various reasons, but at the end of the day, he played a long time because he made plays."
Delhomme was the Panthers' quarterback for seven seasons, memorably taking them to a Super Bowl in February 2004, when he put up 29 points on one of Bill Belichick's best Patriots defenses and had Carolina a couple plays away from a Lombardi Trophy. Delhomme's last two years with the Panthers turned into a series of interceptions and mounting losses, so he was released, freeing him to join the Cleveland Browns and, just this week, the Houston Texans.
Some might call it refreshing to hear a star receiver such as Smith, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, display such loyalty to his longtime QB. And it didn't stop there: Smith also had nice things to say about another one of his former signal-callers.
"No. 2 would be a guy who's probably surprising," Smith said. "When Jake got hurt, we brought in Vinny Testaverde, and Vinny taught me some things to this day that I have at home on my nightstand. He taught me how to run some routes (from) all the guys he played with, Keyshawn (Johnson), Wayne Chrebet, he played with some guys I grew up admiring. So that's why Vinny's No. 2 and Cam's No. 3.
"You can't really base it on physical ability. Let's say (Newton)'s a Clydesdale. He hasn't run in a big event yet."
It's all part of Smith's maturing process, which seems practically complete. He told Dameshek and co-host Adam Rank that, while researching his career during the offseason, he found that he'd played with 176 different receivers, including training camps. But Smith wouldn't take the bait when invited to proclaim himself the best one on the list.
"I feel that I've learned all the way from a rookie free agent to Ricky Proehl and Muhsin Muhammad," Smith said. "If you're not learning, you're not really advancing or improving your craft. I can pull up on a computer, and look at, say, a receiver for the Tennessee Titans ... and I can watch how he releases, he may do something that I never thought of, and I can learn that technique."