But the lack of production at receiver is glaring outside of Smith, who has eight catches for 141 yards and two scores despite facing nearly constant double teams.
The Panthers' offseason youth movement cost Muhsin Muhammad his job and precluded Carolina from going after veteran receivers such as Brandon Marshall, Anquan Boldin or T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The youthful unknown replacements have been nearly non-factors so far -- and the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have acted accordingly by stacking the box to stop the run and putting bracket coverage on Smith.
It might explain why the moody Smith declined to answer questions on Clausen or anything else Thursday.
The Panthers' second-leading receiver is running back Mike Goodson with five catches for 64 yards. Then comes tight end Dante Rosario with five receptions for 61 yards and running back DeAngelo Williams, who has caught three balls for 20 yards. Dwayne Jarrett, beaten out by two rookies for starting assignments in the first two games, has just two catches for 40 yards.
Jarrett, one of Carolina's most disappointing players since being drafted in the second round in 2007, didn't have a pass thrown his way during the Panthers' 20-7 loss to the Bucs.
"I had a good talk with coach Fox. It's not a trust factor," Jarrett said. "I guess they're trying out new things. They want to see some of the new guys and find out the right rotation. Hopefully, this week I can be in the starting lineup."
Rookie David Gettis, who started last week, had just two catches for 18 yards and is still raw after playing in a run-oriented offense at Baylor.
Rookie Armanti Edwards, a converted college quarterback from Appalachian State, has been on the inactive list for the first two games as he learns a new position.
"It's kind of a given that I just need to improve on being a receiver," Edwards said.
With Edwards not getting a jersey and Charly Martin placed on injured reserve last week with a hamstring injury, the Panthers dressed just three receivers against the Bucs. Rosario was used in some three- and four-receiver sets, and he couldn't come up with a slightly overthrown ball that would have been a touchdown.
"That's an example that there are plays to be made," Rosario said. "If a few things go a little bit differently for us, it's a different game."
Moore still might have a starting job if he didn't overthrow an open Gettis for what would have also been a touchdown Sunday. Yet the sixth-round pick, known for his speed, still believes he can become a much-needed deep threat.
"I think the coaches are pushing that -- use what God gave you, use your abilities, use what we brought you here for and use it every snap," Gettis said. "And that's what I plan to do."
It would help if Jarrett finally showed the potential that Carolina expected when it took him and released Keyshawn Johnson days later. Jarrett has been criticized for his work ethic and not knowing the playbook, was arrested for driving while impaired and has caught only one touchdown pass in four NFL seasons.
"I wouldn't say angry, more frustrated than anything," Jarrett said on not starting. "But what can you do? You just have to go out there and keep working hard. Hopefully, I get my opportunity."
The Panthers, the NFL's youngest team, can only hope someone steps forward to give Clausen help in his first NFL start Sunday. If not, he wouldn't be the first Carolina signal-caller to struggle to find anyone to throw to after Smith.
"We have to make more plays for whoever is under center," said tight end Jeff King, who's still looking for his first catch of the season. "It's not all Matt's fault."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press