Panthers' Lucas, Smith together again after fight

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Steve Smith broke the huddle and lined up wide right, Ken Lucas was there to meet him on the other side of the line of scrimmage. This time, no punches were thrown.

The players faced off Saturday for the first time since Smith broke Lucas' nose with a sucker punch during the Carolina Panthers' training camp more than two weeks ago.

Lucas, who needed surgery to reset his nose, attended his first practice since the Aug. 1 fight. Smith was on the field after sustaining a concussion in the preseason opener against Indianapolis last week.

Even though reporters were kept two fields away from practice, it was clear the usual trash talking between the two was kept at a minimum.

Both players declined to talk after the workout, and coach John Fox did his best to downplay the significance of their first practice together since the fight.

"Oh, that's well past," Fox said. "In fact, until you mentioned it, I didn't think about it. It's good to have them both back."

But the Panthers are still dealing with the repercussions of the scuffle, which began when Lucas took a punch from Smith while on one knee during a break in training camp in Spartanburg, S.C.

Fox and general manager Marty Hurney suspended Smith without pay for the first two regular-season games. With D.J. Hackett still sidelined Saturday with a lingering toe injury and Muhsin Muhammad unable to practice after suffering bruised ribs in Thursday's preseason loss to Philadelphia, the Panthers face uncertainty at receiver.

Lucas, who has said he's forgiven Smith, returned to his starting position at cornerback. Fox wouldn't commit that he'll play in Saturday's exhibition game against the Washington Redskins, but it's clear taking a punch put Lucas behind in his preseason preparations.

"It's real nice to see him back," said cornerback Richard Marshall, who replaced Lucas when he was out. "Even when we were in Spartanburg, he was still there and I was telling him to watch my technique and let me know when my footwork is bad and when I'm doing something wrong."

Smith has yet to answer questions publicly about the incident, avoiding reporters since he made a rambling four-minute statement apologizing to the team and fans on Aug. 4. The team's top receiver for the past three years, Smith has acknowledged he needs to win back the respect of his teammates.

Saturday's practice was the next step.

"He's been helping out the corners, letting us know if you're playing a little too far off or you're playing this way, that's why I did this route," Marshall said of Smith. "He's teaching us as well as doing his plays."

Notes: Fox gave no timetable for Muhammad's return. ... CB Chris Gamble, S Chris Harris, WR Ryne Robinson, DT Ian Scott and TEs Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge remained sidelined with injuries. ... Marshall said he knew right away that the Eagles were trying a fake field goal before his 78-yard interception return of a shuffle pass for a touchdown Thursday. "Watching film, the end man on the line always blocked down on me. He never let me come free," Marshall said. "So once he let me come free, it put up some flags -- something wasn't right. I didn't know he was going to pitch it. I actually thought it was going to be a run fake."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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