Size doesn't matter to Panthers

Five-foot-9 cornerback Ricky Manning thwarted a potential game-winning drive by the Rams by intercepting Marc Bulger near the end of the first overtime. Three plays later receiver Steve Smith, also 5-foot-9, ended the game with a 69-yard touchdown reception.

When it comes to the Carolina Panthers, size doesn't matter. The two biggest plays in Carolina's 29-23 overtime double victory over the St. Louis Rams on Saturday came courtesy of the two shortest guys on the team's 53-man roster.

Five-foot-9 cornerback Ricky Manning thwarted a potential game-winning drive by the Rams by intercepting Marc Bulger near the end of the first overtime. Three plays later receiver Steve Smith, also 5-foot-9, ended the game with a 69-yard touchdown reception.

And both expected to play a big role in Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"What we say around here is size don't mean [anything]," said Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner. "A lot of times people get caught up in the numbers games. I don't believe you can measure a football player by his size or how fast he runs.

"You have to measure the heart, the fight inside of him. And those guys prove it. Yeah, they are small guys but with their hearts they play much bigger than they are. People always talk about their lack of size, well their hearts make them 7-foot-2."

Smith is Carolina's big-play guy on offense, and Manning, while just a rookie, is stepping into that role on defense.

Smith led the Panthers with 88 receptions and 1,110 yards during the regular season, and has stepped it up a notch in the playoffs with a combined 11 receptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns in the two postseason games.

Manning didn't step into the starting lineup until the final month of the season, but has elevated the play of the entire defense. His interception of Bulger has been called "the play of the year" by several teammates.

The rap on Manning coming out of UCLA is that he might be too short to play with the NFL's taller receivers despite being an effective four-year starter for the Bruins. That, said head coach John Fox, is probably why Manning dropped to the third round. If Manning were three inches taller, Fox said he would have easily been a first-round pick.

The Panthers, after drafting three players, traded up to late in the third round to get him.

And now, Manning, who is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four, is playing like a first-round draft pick.

So what does that say to Manning?

"It says the NFL draft is overrated, that is what is says," Manning said. "That is exactly what is says -- the draft is overrated. But I'm not worried about that stuff. I've done all I can do. I'm going to keep on trying to prove that size doesn't matter."

Smith admitted a long time ago he has a bit of a Napoleon complex, and that he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Like Manning, Smith wasn't drafted until the third round despite a successful career at Utah. The reason, again, was size.

Smith said he doesn't hold a grudge against the teams that passed him over in the first two rounds.

Smith, according to Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, is clearly one of the top 10 receivers in the NFL.

"The draft, it's really all a hunch," Smith said. "People get drafted off hunches. A lot of guys get drafted in the first round because they are a possibility so I can't worry about that."

Then Smith flashed that charming smile and added, "And I'm still waiting for my growth spurt anyway. If it happens, it happens. But it most likely won't."

Buckner said Smith doesn't need any growth spurt.

"Football is not all about speed and size," Buckner said. "It's about not being scared, having courage and wanting to go out and give it all you got. And that is what those two guys give us."


Panther Insider Top Stories