Smith’s injury puts Clausen in even tougher spot vs. Bears

Posted Oct. 04, 2010 @ 10 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

Panthers head coach John Fox called injured WR Steve Smith "day-to-day" at a press conference on Monday, but Smith's agent said the receiver likely will not play vs. the Bears in Week Five.

Smith is reportedly dealing with a high ankle sprain, which he suffered in the third quarter of the loss to the Saints. He left the game and did not return. The Panthers gained 44 yards on the two drives they had without Smith and did not score.

Some have suggested the Panthers are targeting a Week Seven return for him. It usually takes players at least a couple of weeks to return from such an injury, and Carolina has a Week Six bye before facing the 49ers on Oct. 24.

Two rookies — Brandon LaFell and David Gettis — could start at receiver next week if Smith, who has just five catches for 33 yards in rookie QB Jimmy Clausen's two starts, doesn't play.

The PFW spin

It's true that the Panthers' offense, which is on pace to set the franchise record for fewest points scored in the first five games of the season, can't get much worse. It can get a bit worse, though.

Losing Smith leaves Clausen without a proven target and a shrewd veteran who can bail him out when he makes a mistake, as Smith showed on Sunday when he called timeout to avoid taking a delay-of-game penalty when Clausen was oblivious to the play clock as it approached zero.

The Bears will put at least eight defenders in the box regularly vs. the Panthers if the threat of Smith beating them deep isn't a concern. This will make it harder for RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to pick up yards on the ground and likely will leave Clausen in frequent 3rd-and-long situations.

LaFell and Gettis, who have 11 catches combined this season, may develop into solid receivers down the line, but they are still learning and are not reliable options for Clausen yet.