Steve Smith: a Slot Receiver in 2012?

Fans could see even more of this in 2012.

For years now, Steve Smith has talked about adding speed at the WR position. With a deep threat or two on the outside, the middle of the field could open up for Smith.

Say what you will about Smith's age or his speed, some things he will have for a while are his concentration and his quickness in and out of his breaks. 2011 showed that he is just as good at breaking tackles and being elusive. Getting the ball in his hands is one of the keys to this offense. And, since it is considerably easier for a QB to complete passes to the slot receiver, Smith in the slot would be symbiotic for both he and second-year QB Cam Newton.

Based on some offseason comments from Smith, it appears that moving him around a bit more might already be in the works:

...And me being able to move around a lot. When I get back I'm supposed to sit down with coach Chudzinski to go over some new positions and get a head start to studying and adapting and expanding my experience in this offense, which I'm willing and ready to do...

This comment, from Jan. 29th, was during an interview with NFL Network before an NFC practice at the Pro Bowl. Watch the full interview here. (If you click the link be sure to watch the last 30 seconds.)

This is exciting because when I think of Wes Welker, I often think 'a poor man's Steve Smith.' If Newton is able to complete passes to Smith the way Brady connects with Welker, Smith could conceivably have his best year yet.

As an outside receiver, Smith has really had to work for his receptions. On the inside, Smith could release like he is running a fly or deep post but then make one 90-degree cut to the inside and be wide open. Smith's yardage may not increase drastically (if any), and his average reception may not be as long, but this will be an easier way for the Panthers to move the chains on a more consistent basis. It could also give the Panthers the ability to run the ball more on second and long, since this will add an easier, safer and more reliable intermediate third-down receiving option with Smith in the slot.

This all sounds well and good, but for it to be successful the Panthers need to have found themselves a WR or two capable of more or less 'backing the safetys off.' 2011 was difficult in this sense with Legedu Naanee and Brandon LaFell as the 2nd and 3rd receivers. 2012 is looking up, as David Gettis (4.33-40) and Jo Adams (4.45-40) add much needed speed and big-play potential to the offense. Their deep presence will give Smith room to operate underneath, and Smith's presence in the slot will open things up down-field as well.

2012 could be the year Steve Smith finally gets his wish. If so, Panthers fans will be sitting on the edge of their seats.

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