On a day when their Pro Bowl wideout missed practice with a foot infection, the Panthers’ No. 2 receiver said he believes the team’s receiving corps is as good as any in the NFL.
Brandon LaFell, who caught a lot of passes Wednesday while Steve Smith visited a doctor, was asked where the Panthers’ receivers rank in relation to the rest of the league.
“We’ve got guys that can compete with anybody,” LaFell said. “I don’t feel like there’s a secondary that really can stop us because we’ve got as many guys as anyone else has that can get open and make plays.”
But Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler entering his 12th season, is the unquestioned leader of the group.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Smith is being treated with antibiotics for an infection that developed after last week’s exhibition win against Miami. Trainers are waiting for the swelling to go down in Smith’s foot before deciding whether he will play Sunday against the Jets.
Smith was seen on crutches Wednesday returning to Bank of America Stadium with the team’s trainer.
But LaFell does not expect Smith to miss any significant time.
“Smitty’s like Iron Man,” LaFell said. “Smitty’ll be hurt today, be feeling great tomorrow. So I’m not worrying about Smitty. He knows how to take care of his body. We’ll see him back soon.”
The Panthers are still waiting for third-year receiver David Gettis to get back on the field. Gettis tore his ACL in training camp last year and missed all of last season, and has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since the spring.
“My knee feels great,” Gettis said. “It’s just all my hamstring.”
Gettis caught 37 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2010. With his straight-ahead speed, Gettis gives the Panthers’ offense an added dimension and was considered the favorite to win the No. 3 receiver spot.
Gettis has been on the active/physically unable to perform list throughout the preseason. If he begins the season on the PUP list, Gettis would have to sit out at least the first six weeks.
“We definitely don’t want. I’m working hard to make sure I’m ready for the first game,” Gettis said. “Obviously, you want to get a couple weeks of practice in before that. You don’t want to go into the first week of the season rusty. We’re working hard to get back as soon as possible.”
In the year Gettis has been out, LaFell has emerged as the top complement to Smith. But Rivera said this week no one has taken hold of the third wideout spot, and the Panthers might have to fill it by committee.
Gettis, a sixth-round draft pick from Baylor, realizes he has to prove himself again.
“It’s my job to get healthy. And when it’s my time to play, to show them what I can do,” Gettis said. “It’s been a year, so I understand I have to go out there and re-show myself. Just do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”
Meanwhile, LaFell believes he’s ready to take another step in his development.
The former LSU standout averaged 17 yards a catch in 2011, up from 12.3 yards per reception the previous year. His 613 receiving yards were second only to Smith on the team.
But LaFell believes he’s capable of more.
“I feel like every year I go into is my year, and definitely this year,” LaFell said. “It’s my third year. These guys are giving me a big role. … I feel like Smitty’s going to do his thing. And if I can give our offense another reliable weapon on the other side, that’ll help out this whole team.”