Panthers glad Smith incident behind them

The Carolina Panthers went 2-0 without their star wide receiver, but were more than happy to welcome him back on Monday following a two-game suspension.

Steve Smith, a three-time Pro Bowler who has scored 29 touchdowns over the past three seasons, rejoined his teammates for team meetings. He'll be reinstated to the 53-man roster Wednesday.

Although Smith was in the building on Monday, coach John Fox said he didn't get a chance to talk with Smith in person. However, he did talk to him by phone.

"He's ready to roll," Fox said. "He's excited to be back. And he's excited we're 2-0."

Despite punching teammate Ken Lucas last month in training camp, Smith has made amends with his teammates, including Lucas, and the incident is now viewed as water under the bridge.

Fox said he doesn't feel Smith needs to address the team again.

"No I think all of that is over in my mind and in the team's mind. I don't know about (the media's) mind, but it's over with us," Fox said. "All the talk has been done."

Fox he's proud of how his players handled the situation as professionals and feels as though they may come out better in the long run because of it.

"Some of these things make you better and stronger," Fox said. "With the type of guys we have in the locker room I think an unfortunate incident is made into a positive. The fact we were able to win two games without him makes us all better, him included."

To a man, players say they want Smith back.

And clearly they need him back.

Perhaps nobody is more anxious for Smith's return than Jake Delhomme, who was limited to 128 yards passing on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, all but 24 of those coming after halftime. Carolina gained just 47 yards in the first half on Sunday.

But Smith's return will benefit more than Delhomme.

Without anyone to stretch the field, the Bears regularly stacked eight men at the line of scrimmage. That probably won't happen when Smith returns this week to face the Minnesota Vikings and if it does, the Panthers will welcome it because it will allow for more big play opportunities in the passing game.

Smith commands so much attention on the field he makes everyone else's job easier.

Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett will see far fewer double teams. And with opposing safeties having to pay attention to Smith downfield, that means fewer defenders at the line of scrimmage which aids the offensive line and running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

"For us to go out there and win two games without Steve Smith, who is the best player on this team, that speaks wonders for this ball club," Harris said. "When he gets back we are just going to be that much better."

In the meantime, Delhomme was ecstatic to be 2-0 after two weeks without Smith.

"It's huge. I've said it all along," Delhomme said. "We need to win without Steve. I mean that as the biggest compliment in the best way possible. We need to win without him because he's going to give us a chance."

Added Fox: "He's been in communication with our players and he's been a part of the team. I think they're excited to have him back.... He's arguably one of the better receivers in the game. He's fast, he's quick and he's strong. He's tough. He brings a lot to the table."

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