SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Ken Lucas' car was parked at the far edge of the parking lot for an early getaway before the start of the Carolina Panthers' final training camp practice. Not 10 minutes after the workout had ended Wednesday morning, the luxury sedan had already disappeared.
You can't blame Lucas for wanting to see Wofford College in his rearview mirror
In what will be best remembered as the camp star receiver Steve Smith punched and broke Lucas' nose, the Panthers were ready to forget camp and the ugly incident that could've created the divisions and rifts that can tear apart a season.
"I think we're definitely on the right track as a team," receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. "Of course Ken Lucas played a big part in that."
Lucas stood in front of reporters last week, three days after Smith punched him while Lucas was on one knee with his helmet off and announced he had forgiven Smith. A day before, Smith apologized in a team meeting.
Lucas hasn't practiced since the fight, and underwent a minor procedure last week to set his nose. He hopes to be ready for the start of the regular season.
Smith returned to practice last week, but sustained a concussion in Saturday's preseason opener. Smith wasn't around for the final workout Wednesday and won't travel to Philadelphia for Thursday's game against the Eagles.
But perhaps it's best the Panthers play a game without Smith. The team suspended him without pay for the first two regular-season games, leaving the Panthers without their top playmaker against San Diego and Chicago.
Smith has said he made an "asinine decision" and vowed to earn back the respect of his teammates. He was seen in the past week talking privately to teammates. The volatile receiver was noticeably more low key in practice before getting shaken up making a leaping 19-yard grab against the Colts on Saturday.
But players say the reason they've moved on is Lucas' insistence that the matter didn't simmer.
"I think you see it on the practice field," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Guys are still working and still battling and I think that is a great sign."
If the Panthers can overcome the incident and Smith's suspension, the preseason has provided some optimism. The new-look offensive line, which includes first-round pick Jeff Otah, opened big holes for running back DeAngelo Williams in the preseason opener.
Defensive end Julius Peppers looked like his pre-2007 self against the Colts. They have more depth at receiver and linebacker.
While no player suffered a season-ending injury in camp, more than a dozen players have been sidelined for various ailments. The receivers and secondary have been the most hard hit, with D.J. Hackett's lingering injuries a concern with Smith unavailable the first two weeks.
But when linebacker Jon Beason was pulling Smith away from an angry pile of players that not only included Lucas, but many of his defensive teammates coming to his aid, the potential was there for a divided locker room that would last the season.
And while players jogged up the hill Wednesday to try to beat Lucas out of the parking lot, they wore smiles, the coach was happy and the Panthers seemed poise to overcome the incident.
"It was a good camp," coach John Fox said. "Like always, there are always tougher times than others. But I think we worked through everything pretty well. I like this group so far."
Notes: Fox said CB Chris Gamble (hamstring), S Chris Harris (groin), Hackett (toe) and WR Dwayne Jarrett (leg) would not travel to Philadelphia. ... Fox said RB Jonathan Stewart would make the trip and may play after missing the Indianapolis game as he recovers from toe surgery. ... Beason will play after sitting out the opener with an ankle injury. ... Fox said the starters will play into the second quarter, with Delhomme to take most, if not all, the snaps with the first team. ... Fox mentioned WR Jason Carter and TE Chad Upshaw as players who impressed in camp.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press