A couple of the Carolina Panthers’ defensive backs have a history with Baltimore Ravens wideout Steve Smith, who will face his former team for the first time Sunday.
Cornerback Josh Norman traded barbs with Smith in 2012, during Norman’s rookie year.
Strong safety Roman Harper’s confrontation was physical. Harper, then with the New Orleans Saints, drilled Smith after Smith slowed down before crossing the goal line during a touchdown catch against New Orleans in 2011.
Harper was penalized and fined $15,000 by the league for the hit. But Harper did not rule out the possibility of doing it again Sunday in Baltimore if the same scenario played out again.
“I’ve never once apologized for what I did, nor will I. I’ll leave it at that,” Harper said Wednesday. “It’s just the way I play the game and what I did is what I did. I paid my debt to society, or to (commissioner) Roger (Goodell), because of it.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was not interested Wednesday in discussing Smith, the franchise’s career receiving leader who was the team’s longest-tenured player when he was released in March following 13 seasons in Charlotte.
But several of the Panthers’ players who have the task of covering Smith on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium talked about Smith’s long history as a competitor, agitator and the best receiver in the franchise’s 20-year history.
“We were always competitive. He never wanted to back down from anything and I was the same thing,” Norman said. “So we always had a head-to-head match, and I respected him because he is one of our greatest. He probably will end up in the Hall of Fame, the first Hall of Famer for the Carolina Panthers. You’ve got to respect that.”
Norman didn’t show what Smith deemed the proper respect after Norman joined the Panthers as a fifth-round pick and told a reporter he’d held his own against Smith during organized team activities.
“Once late July, August comes, he’s going to learn very quickly this isn’t Coastal Carolina,” Smith said. “I look forward to camp.”
Norman said he bumped into Smith outside a store in Charlotte in the spring after the Panthers cut Smith. Norman was asked Wednesday whether Smith seemed bitter.
“I would think anybody would in his situation, in his position. He was here like 12, 13 years,” Norman said. “When you’re with one team for that long and then just all of a sudden, boom, you’re gone somewhere else, it’s hard for anybody to take that pill. And for him, I know it was very, very tough.”
Smith, 35, has wasted no time becoming quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite target. He leads the Ravens with 18 catches and his 290 receiving yards rank seventh in the NFL.
“He’s still got it. He never dropped off from what he was,” Norman said. “Like he said, the older you are the finer the wine, I guess.”
Norman said he expects Smith to play with a lot of energy this week – not because he’s playing the Panthers, but because that’s what he always does.
“He’s going to be the same Steve Smith – ragin’ Cajun, same guy, going out there and playing with emotion and playing with everything he’s got,” Norman said. “And I wouldn’t want it no other way.”
Norman said he would be mindful not to get caught in a yelling or shoving match with Smith, and get hit with a costly penalty.
Veteran safety Charles Godfrey, who played with Smith for six years, said he didn’t feel the need to tell the younger defensive backs about what to expect from Smith because “every team has a guy that’s like Steve.”
So who’s the Panthers’ player now that is most like Smith?
“I don’t think that we have a guy,” Godfrey said. “Steve’s a different guy.”
But Godfrey said the Panthers have several players with an attitude or edge. Rivera called outside linebacker Thomas Davis the team’s emotional leader.
But like Rivera, Godfrey said that’s not what Sunday’s game is about.
“It’s not about attitude or who makes the most noise or who does the most celebrations. It’s not all about that,” Godfrey said “It’s about going out, lining up and playing ball.”