« Video: Ron Rivera talks about cutting Steve Smith | Main | Should Panthers go after DeSean Jackson? »

March 26, 2014

Ron Rivera questions Steve Smith's speed, ability to stay healthy


ORLANDO -- A day after Baltimore coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence that new Ravens receiver Steve Smith can still get open deep, Smith's former coach didn't sound so sure.

"He doesn't have the top-end speed like he used to, but he still has good speed," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday at the annual league meetings.

Rivera spoke publicly for the first time about the release of Smith, the franchise's all-time receiving leader who was cut March 13 following 13 seasons in Carolina. Smith, who turns 35 in May, signed a three-year deal with the Ravens a day after the Panthers cut him.

Rivera echoed general manager Dave Gettleman's comments from Tuesday when he said parting ways with Smith was a football decision.

Smith saw his production fall off in 2013. His yards-per-catch average dropped nearly 5 yards to 11.6 yards per reception, his lowest average since 2007.

In addition to mentioning Smith's decline in speed, Rivera also said several times he thinks Smith needs to tone down his approach to practice in order to get through a season healthy.

Smith missed only one game last season, sitting out the Week 17 finale at Atlanta with a sprained knee. Smith sustained the non-contact injury the previous week against New Orleans while running a slant route.

He rehabbed his knee and scored the Panthers' only touchdown in the playoff loss to San Francisco. But he was shut out in the second half when the 49ers adjusted their coverage.

"Steve will still find ways to make plays," Rivera said. "And as far as football decisions go, we have to move on eventually. This was an opportunity to do it."

Replacing Smith might be more difficult. Rivera conceded the Panthers don't have a true No. 1 receiver. But Rivera said he's more concerned about replacing the collective 10 catches a game the Panthers with the departure of Smith and the three wideouts lost in free agency -- Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 26, 2014 at 09:20 AM | Permalink


Have a feeling they'll be reminded just how open Smitty can get when we travel to Baltimore. My guess is that he's still far more capable than anyone on the roster. We shall see, especially with that little extra fuel RR just provided 89.

Posted by: Mike W | Mar 26, 2014 9:53:40 AM

What does he mean by 'tone down his approach in practice'? That's who he is. Rivera has said that many times on alot of different occassions. That's who Smitty is, that's what you get from him. A guy that works hard whether practice or games because that's his football DNA. I would rather have a guy 35 that's going to work hard because it challenges others to work just as hard or harder to achieve a common goal. Super Bowl champion. Anything else from a defensive minded coach should be unexceptanle. They're making excuses now becuase they have nothing to fall back on after Harbaugh's commets. Now that's truely sad to see. I understand you want to develope talent, but Smitty was a distraction he was too vocal for them when he (Smitty) only wanted the best for the organization. Last l chcked, Smitty did play in SB XXXVIII with the francise, where were they @ that time, at home watching

Posted by: David | Mar 26, 2014 9:57:03 AM

Steve Smith is a proven winner. He proved his worth and dedication to the game and to the Panthers. So why is it necessary to criticize him now that he's gone? It is abundantly clearly that Panthers' leadership has no honor - no class!

Posted by: Chris Lee | Mar 26, 2014 9:58:07 AM

He showered this year.

Posted by: Fart poop | Mar 26, 2014 9:59:20 AM

This article is baiting people for criticism. Harbaugh said the same thing--that Smith doesn't have the speed he used to, but he still has some speed left in the tank. Rivera said he doesn't have the top-end speed like he used to, but he still has good speed.

So why try to make Rivera an enemy?

Posted by: Brandon | Mar 26, 2014 9:59:59 AM

why doesnt the Observer do some research and write articles on who we could possibly get via the draft or possibly late roster cuts from other teams at WR???

oh that would require work...nevermind

its over now...hes gone

Posted by: I am your father | Mar 26, 2014 10:06:32 AM

You take Smitty out of the picture & replace him w/ the laid back guy Rivera wants him to be last season & HE is the one out of the door like everyone assumed he would be not even half way into the season. That fiery attitude is what motivated your team to WIN dumbass! he should be bowing at his feet not taking shots at him even IF he was I favor of moving on from him.

Posted by: Taryn | Mar 26, 2014 10:08:17 AM

I don't see anything wrong w/ Rivera's comments.. It's the truth. Smitty even said it himself that he's not a true #1 receiver and was better suited for the slot. I just don't understand the sensitivity of everyone claiming otherwise.

Posted by: Shaun NJ | Mar 26, 2014 10:11:10 AM

I dont think it was malicious. Rivera is always candid and gives his honest opinions. And its not like Smitty holds back his opinions so relax people.

Posted by: HoggMolly | Mar 26, 2014 10:15:53 AM

I don't think Ron is too worried about replacing Domenik Hixon. 2013: 7 REC, 55 YDS and 1 TD. That 1 TD was great, and I was there to see it live, but I don't think we'll have a problem finding another receiver to maintain those stats. Maybe Ron just wanted to be inclusive with his statement. Hopefully we can finally see what Kealoha Pilares is capable of. Pilares actually had similar stats to Hixon in 2012 so I think we may have found one replacement.

Posted by: Michael | Mar 26, 2014 10:16:55 AM

You cant handle the truth!

Posted by: Col.NathanJessup | Mar 26, 2014 10:17:24 AM

I don't think Rivera and Gettleman understand the problem. Fans may be upset because Smitty was cut, but we get that this is a business and no player can last forever. What we don't get is how badly Smitty's release was handled privately and publicly. I agree that Rivera needs to stop making a case for why they let Smitty go and focus on the contribution he made when he was here. I think that would go further with the fans. I know it would go further with me. All I want is for the man to be shown a little appreciation. Well, I guess that $5 million the Panthers are paying him to play for the Ravens is a start.

Posted by: Angela | Mar 26, 2014 10:19:17 AM

I love Smitty as a football player and so does everybody at the Carolina Football club. You had a guy that couldn't play up to his contract and you had to let him go. End of story. The fact that he sprained his knee without contact was probably a telling sign of things to come. Baltimore is taking a risk. As far as Gettleman and Rivera's remarks are concerned they are just candidly stating the facts and being transparent. They get asked these questions by the media. I appreciate them being honest.

Posted by: Jake | Mar 26, 2014 10:27:48 AM

Kealoha Pilares?! Hindsight 20/20, we've could've and should've drafted Richard Sherman in the 4th round, instead of him. Rivera's comments don't make any sense. It was Smitty's work ethic that helped save his job. Who called the "come to Jesus" team-only meeting after the Arizona game? Who worked hard to rush back from injury to make the playoff game? Smitty, that's who. But yet, he's a distraction in the locker room. BS!!!

Posted by: Ed | Mar 26, 2014 10:29:36 AM

Mike W at 9:53....Rivera is the coach for a reason. Smitty is the player. Just goes to show you what happens at practice, and in the locker room. There are a ton of players that don't like Smitty, or his mouth....whether they are on his team, practicing with him, or in the locker room with him. Everything with Smitty is his way or the highway....just ask the two teammates that he sucker punched in the locker room! This isn't jail, where you hit people in the face that have a different opinion than you....and then THAT sends a message that you are not to be messed with. This is a team. He cries incessantly when he doesn't get the ball. He's had to "tone it down in practice" because he is old, and he doesn't get open anymore. Problem is, he didn't "tone it down," and definitely has been a distraction. RR is kissing it goodbye, and Gettelman don't play that. No longer his way or the highway.....Smitty got the highway. Can he still play? You bet! But the results no longer outweigh the distraction.

Posted by: willy loman | Mar 26, 2014 10:34:04 AM

Smitty sucks

Posted by: stinker | Mar 26, 2014 10:41:41 AM

Smitty was one of the leaders of the locker room, not childish ass Cam. It was Smitty who got the team to play better after the Cardinals and Miami game. Cam and Shula will get exposed this season.

Posted by: FU mike shula | Mar 26, 2014 10:42:44 AM

I hope Cam gets some good running shoes for next season. He'll need them ( Horrible pocket passer ).

Posted by: FU mike shula | Mar 26, 2014 10:54:41 AM

Maybe its not Steve Smith's speed. Could it be Newton's accuracy? I'm just sayin!

Posted by: its me | Mar 26, 2014 11:00:30 AM

he could have just let it go. instead he's making it worse. well done, sir.

Posted by: charlottean | Mar 26, 2014 11:04:46 AM

And yes I said childish ass Cam. The dude would rather do poses for the camera, celebrate every first down, talk about himself in the third person, then be focused on conquering next play. Although, Im sure the defense will be there to continouslly bail him out .

Posted by: FU mike shula | Mar 26, 2014 11:06:21 AM

"talk about himself in the third person"

Brandon is curious what you mean by that.

Posted by: Brandon | Mar 26, 2014 11:10:21 AM

@ Brandon. Lol

Posted by: FU mike shula | Mar 26, 2014 11:11:26 AM

Why give constructive criticism during an interview on a player who is no longer with the team but it 1. is the best player in franchise history 2. the departure was poorly handled from an organizational standpoint. 3. you are going to have to face next season in a game that counts 4. We don't even know who half of our players next year will be

Posted by: Jeremy | Mar 26, 2014 11:14:25 AM

As a Panthers fan, I can almost see Gettleman behind Rivera with a cattle prod, on the ready to have Ron get the rehearsed lines correct on Steve.

I’m embarrassed for Ron to have to put out such garbage. Everyone knows that Rivera had no issues with Smith and that the conflict is between Gettleman and Smith. You don’t pay the best WR on your team $5 million to walk away, due to his diminishing skills and disparage his character on the way out, by calling him a distraction.

David Gettleman is the one who should have been before the cameras to explain, but he’s still in hiding.

Posted by: qdog112 | Mar 26, 2014 11:18:54 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.