As you know Panthers WR Steve Smith was suspended by the team for the first two games of the season for taking the first punch in his fight with CB Ken Lucas. Whether the punishment was appropriate we’ll discuss a little later but I can’t help but first think about the impact on the season. You know John Fox hates to sit his best offensive weapon but he’s never favored his superstars when it came to discipline. He isn’t about to change because his job is on the line.
So how will the rest of the team react? Two locker room leaders have been quick to try and dispel any potential long-term effects of the suspension.
"I think that's when you need to have the right guys in the locker room being leaders," Delhomme said. "I'm embracing the fact that I think I'm one of them. And I know Muhsin Muhammad's embracing that fact. And I know Jon Beason and Chris Harris are embracing that fact, too. And we are spreading it amongst ourselves. There's open communication."
Added Muhammad: "I think the leaders on this team will have to do a good job of keeping this team together, keeping unity on this team and keeping guys feeling like they have an equal voice and that there's just camaraderie. "I think that's the most important thing -- just having camaraderie."
"This will not divide this football team -- I promise you," Delhomme said.
I sounds like they are on the right track. I also think the Panthers have the depth at WR to keep the Panther offense from becoming too one dimensional until Smith comes back. Once game three rolls around I bet Smith will be ready to…actually CSR reader Jaxonweb says it pretty good:
Suspend him for a couple games so that he and the team know this is unacceptable. Then let Muhammad and Hackett have a chance to shine and stabilize our offense. Then once we have established a solid passing game… bring in your deadliest weapon! Cornerbacks beware… Smitty’s back with a vengeance!
Steve Smith will have four long weeks to think about how a short lapse in control will delay the start of his season. To say he will have a chip on his shoulder is an understatement. Of course Smith has always seems to play better when he has something to prove. Without trying to play Dr. Phil here I wonder if maybe subconsciously he prefers to be the bad guy because it fuels his aggression. We can only speculate but there is no doubt he is a special player who’s on-field energy can be both a benefit and a burden. Since it’s been six years since the last time he decked a teammate Panther fans will cut him a break. We can only hope Smith returns to being the best positive role model he can be from here on out.
So do you think the two-game suspension was harsh? For John Fox I don’t think so. It’s about in line with previous punishments, for example Jeremy Bridges two-game suspension for his altercation last season. Besides, he broke Ken Lucas nose and probably came close to a concussion. For those that wonder what Lucas may have said to Smith to provoke him it doesn’t really matter. These two are well known for jawing back and forth in the past without throwing punches. If the punishment for crossing the line isn’t painful enough Fox may have more brawls to referee.
On the positive side it will give WR Dwayne Jarrett an early opportunity to show how much he has learned since last season. Both Musin Muhammad and DJ Hackett will also have to produce to keep the defense from putting eight men in the box to stop the run. Maybe having to play without Smith early will have some added benefit later in the season. Jake will be forced to pick a different ‘go to’ receiver which, now that I think about it makes the Moose signing that much smarter. The next few weeks of the preseason will give us an idea as to whether this incident lingers like a black cloud or becomes nothing more than an afterthought.
Update: Since writing this post a good Q&A with Ken Lucas has been posted. It sounds like the Panthers are not going to let this incident hinder the teams focus on the season.
"Me and Steve have talked, man to man and one on one. We still have some more talking to do as far as the descrepencies of what we feel like are the issues between us. But we're going to handle it as men.
"As far as this incident holding the team back, I don't think it's going to do so. I think it's only going to make us better and bring us closer as a team (as we) work toward the ultimate goal of winning this tropy this year.