Steve Smith: Negligently Underutilized?

Steve Smith is obviously the best offensive player, arguably the best player regardless of position, on the current roster.  If we delve into his statistics from last season, we see that he had 83 total touches, in the form of 78 receptions and Five carries.  This workload, divided by the 14 games in which he played, is only 5.9 touches per game.

Steve must touch the ball at least 150 times in a season if the Panthers are to be consistent winners.  MINIMUM.  How you ask?  Well, being the offensive coordinator, it is Jeff Davidson's job to devise and call plays with a high success rate.  This idea, of short, safe, high percentage throws that allow the receiver to gain yards after the catch is something almost foreign to the Panthers since Fox has taken the reigns.  It is quite obvious that Fox prefers to take his shots down-field.  And to his credit, this is a proven commodity when combined with a run-heavy, run-first offense.  Do not confuse me with someone who does not understand the importance of the run-game.

But seriously, when you have an athlete like Steve Smith, I think it is your responsibility to get him the ball more than 83 times in 14 games.  They no doubt tried, since many of Jake Delhomme's interceptions and incompletions were targeted for Smith.  Ok, he needs more touches, but how does he get them smart guy?

Well, here's a stab at that question:  In games like the Oakland debacle (where Jake is having a terrible day), why not put Steve in the backfield and fake a hand off or toss to him, and then throw a screen-pass to him? Shoot, hand if off to him the traditional way.  Line him up in the wing and let him run a misdirection type package.  Just get him the ball more than 5.9 times a game.  This is not a ridiculous request considering the average NFL game has each offense running an average of 60 plays.

Steve Smith needs to be a run/pass threat...If you happened to watch any Florida Gator games during the last couple years, can you not say that Steve Smith would be even better if we had a package for him like the Pistol formation Florida used with Percy Harvin?  This formation features a HB/WR position who lines up anywhere in the backfield, on either wing, and also in the slot.  A package like this finds high percentage ways to get the ball to your best player(s).  This way he is more of a run/pass threat, and defenses have to assign more than one, sometimes more than two defenders to him at all times.  This kind of attention will naturally create more field for the rest of the skill players on offense.

Jeff Davidson moves him all over the place, yes, but it's not nearly enough.  Personally, I think in 90% of the 3-Wide sets, Steve needs to be in the slot.  Not only will he get favorable match-ups, but a drag route across the middle of the field is a shorter, safer, higher percentage throw, and with all that room that is often in the middle of the field, if he can make a Safety or LB miss, umm, bye bye.

In additon, it is clear that he does not get nearly as many WR screen passes thrown at him as he did a few years ago.  In 2005, when he won the triple-crown, that was the bread and butter.  There was really no run game to speak of.  The constant threat of Steve beating a corner deap opens up this play call.  It is underutilized at this point, and so is Steve Smith.

What are some other ways (besides punt or kick returns) to get Steve the ball?  Please share them.

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