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Smith back on field for Carolina after broken leg

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (April 30, 2005) -- Steve Smith is finally back on the field, running long routes for the Carolina Panthers and catching balls from Jake Delhomme.

As far as Delhomme is concerned, it doesn't look like his top target has missed a beat. Smith, Carolina's leading receiver in 2003, missed 15 games last year after breaking his leg in the season opener.

"He looked good," Delhomme said. "I wasn't too worried about him. You don't want to make light of an injury, but a lot of guys have come back from that.

"And I've thrown with him the last couple of weeks and I kind of knew what he could do when he came out."

Smith is participating in Carolina's three-day minicamp this weekend after slowly easing back into shape once doctors cleared him to begin running in March.

He's forced to adjust to his surgically repaired leg, which had seven screws and a metal plate inserted into it.

"You can tell there's a foreign object in my leg," Smith said. "It felt a little different."

But anything is better than the months he spent slowed by a cast and reliant on a pair of crutches.

"It was a great time for my wife and I to do some things," Smith said. "But it's very tough. It's dangerous going up and down stairs on crutches, and I was getting on my wife's nerves, stuff like that."

Smith will try to come back and duplicate his breakout season of 2003, when he caught a career-high 88 passes for 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns. He was also terrific during the playoffs, helping the Panthers get into the Super Bowl with 18 catches for 404 yards and three touchdowns.

His highlight was a 69-yard TD reception in double overtime against St. Louis that sent Carolina into the NFC Championship Game.

For Carolina to be successful this season, they'll need big numbers from Smith. Muhsin Muhammad, who led the Panthers last season in Smith's absence, was released in the spring in a salary-cap move and then signed with Chicago.

Smith said he won't change a thing about his game in an effort to fill the void left by Muhammad.

"I don't have to do anything different, just go out and do my job," Smith said. "I just have to do what they brought me here to do and do what I did in 2003, just make plays and let my actions speak louder than my words."

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