It's only May, but for a brief moment last Sunday the Carolina Panthers' entire 2007 season hung in the balance as Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith grabbed for his left knee as he writhed in pain on the field.
However, the injury doesn't appear to be serious.
"He landed on his knee funny but he's fine," coach John Fox said after practice.
The Panthers were minutes away from wrapping up a fairly mundane rookie minicamp when Smith -- who always practices full speed -- leaped high in the air for a deep pass and appeared to collide with a defender, sending him crashing to the ground in a heap. He rolled on the ground for several seconds holding his left leg. The injury paralyzed practice for a moment as teammates anxiously looked on.
At first it was tough to tell if Smith injured his knee or his hamstring, a problem that gave him fits last off-season. Trainer Ryan Vermillion attended to Smith, who left the field under his own power.
--Coach John Fox was pleased with his team's effort at the rookie minicamp, which included five practices in three days.
"I liked the way the guys came in. They've obviously had a very good off-season, the veteran guys and some of our younger players from a year ago coming back," Fox said. "I thought the rookies, for the most part, we kind of throw a lot at them and they kind of grasped everything. It was a good start."
Fox wouldn't single out any players that stood out, but tight end Dante Rosario seemed faster than expected and could turn out to be a weapon in the passing game.
"One of my friends called me and said, 'There's a rumor Keyshawn had been released,'" Carter said. "I actually wasn't at home at the time and I called Keary (Colbert) and he said, 'Let me check on the TV.' He turned on the TV and it was a special alert. That's how I found out. But yes, I was surprised."
With Johnson gone, Carter is working with the first team alongside Smith.
"I still have to prove myself a lot," Carter said. "There's nothing given to you. I'm just going to keep on fighting and hopefully they will see me. They brought in a couple of guys in the draft and they will be fighting for positions just like I am."
But Carter said he has a lot to improve upon.
"I think off the line stuff, you know, I'm learning you don't have to always be fast to be effective," Carter said. "I've been learning that. I want to use my speed all of the time and Steve has been trying to help with out with that, showing me I don't. His routes aren't always full speed because it's better for hips and he can get out of his cuts faster. He's an All-Pro, so watching him every day can't hurt."
--Nothing is etched in stone at this point, but the Panthers lined up like this on the offensive line: Jordan Gross at right tackle, Jeremy Bridges at right guard, Geoff Hangartner at center, Mike Wahle at left guard and Rashad Butler at left tackle.
Butler will likely be replaced when Travelle Wharton is ready to return from a torn ACL in his knee. Wharton did not participate in the rookie minicamp and probably won't practice until training camp.
It will be interesting to see where Justin Hartwig ends up.
He signed a five-year, $17 million contract last year that included $7 million in bonuses. That's a lot of money to pay a reserve, but at this point it would cost more to cut Hartwig than to keep him.
"We are trying to find out who are best five are," Fox said.
--NFL Films was in town over the weekend following the progress of Panthers second-round draft pick Ryan Kalil for a project that will air on the NFL Network. They plan to track Kalil's rookie season.
Kalil is one of four draft picks from around the league that will be the focus of a story on making it in the NFL.
QUOTABLE: "The one thing I love about my dad is that he never pushed football on me. When the time came, and I started to really have a desire to play football, I went to my dad. The only position he knew was offensive line. I took a lot of pride in trying to pick his brain. It all worked out for the best. I love him to death. He's one of the biggest reasons why I'm here today, and we're all so excited right now." -- Panthers C Ryan Kalil, whose father played in the USFL.