Steve Smith's career is in a very good place right now. The same could not be said this time last year.
Last summer, the Carolina Panthers wide receiver was coming off his worst statistical season and in danger of becoming just another thirty-something former NFL star hurdling toward career extinction. He wasn't even the most productive Steve Smith in his own conference anymore.
But that was all B.C.: Before Cam. The arrival of dynamic rookie quarterback Cam Newton was the catalyst that returned Smith to Pro Bowl form. Now set to enter his 12th season in the NFL, Smith again is viewed as one of the game's most dangerous playmakers.
In a Thursday chat, I asked Smith if he ever privately worried after the 2010 season that his best days were behind him.
"I think yeah. You always have a little bit of fear in this game, you concern yourself and worry about people questioning you especially as you get older," said Smith. "The best thing is to continue working hard, and if it doesn't happen, you can't worry about, 'Well, it didn't happen because of this.' If you put in the work, you can be proud of the work you did."
Smith finished with seven touchdowns and nearly 1,400 receiving yards last season, especially impressive considering he played alongside the everyman likes of Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee. It makes you wonder how good Smith could be if he had another proven playmaker lining up on the opposite side.
"Whether Plaxico should get an opportunity or not, that really doesn't fall under my leadership or my employment," Smith said. "I think Plaxico, just like any of us, would enjoy playing for any team, and I respect that."
Smith turned 33 in May and said his goal is to sneak into the age 37-range before calling it a career. If he can put together a couple more All-Pro type seasons, he might become the first longtime Panther to punch his ticket to Canton.