CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For more than three years, Steve Smith and Ken Lucas talked trash, argued and generally disliked each other, culminating in Smith's sucker-punch at training camp last month that broke the cornerback's nose.
Shortly after the incident, which caused Smith to be suspended two games, the Carolina Panthers teammates finally sat down and talked. Smith said it quickly became apparent a lack of communication was behind their problems.
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"Flat out, we said it: I thought he didn't like me and he thought I didn't like him," Smith said Thursday. "It's plain and simple."
The 2 1/2-hour conversation at training camp last month is one of the reasons the Panthers were quickly able to move on from the ugly incident. Lucas, who has gone up against Smith in practice daily since he signed with the team in 2005, has said he's forgiven Smith.
"I would think we're friends. I think the conversation we had would indicate we are," Smith said. "There were some frowns going on, some laughing and we talked about a lot of things. I think that was kind of the icebreaker. Hopefully it continues and I think it will."
Smith talked for more than 20 minutes Thursday, the first time the three-time Pro Bowl receiver answered questions from local reporters since the Aug. 1 incident. The Panthers suspended him without pay a day later for the first two regular-season games. Carolina won both games with late fourth-quarter comebacks.
I'm just as happy to have Steve back as anybody in this locker room because he's going to help us win a lot of games this year," Lucas said. "I feel like the sky's the limit for us. I told him after the game, 'I'll see you on Monday and let's go get this ring together."'
Smith was reinstated on Monday and will start on Sunday at Minnesota. While his teammates have accepted him again after the incident in camp in which Smith punched Lucas in the face while Lucas was on one knee with his helmet off during a break in practice, it's likely Smith is running out of second chances.
Smith was suspended for one game in 2002 for punching teammates Anthony Bright during a film session.
"Is it my last chance?" Smith asked, repeating a reporter's question. "I don't really see myself really as trying to put myself back in this predicament, no matter what people may speculate or say or bring up."
On Sunday, Smith hopes to use his explosive speed and big-play ability to help Carolina start 3-0 for the first time in five years. His teammates have warmly welcomed him back, keyed by the end of a long-running feud between competitive teammates.
"I mean I've always respected Ken," Smith said. "I guess it was just two prima donnas."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press