With two Super Bowl rings in his pocket, Torrey Smith already possesses something that every player on the Carolina Panthers would like to have.
What he is trying to earn now, however, doesn’t have anything to do with jewelry.
“I feel like I’m the new guy on the team,” Smith said after the Panthers’ first camp practice, “and I’ve got to prove (myself) all over again.”
The Panthers traded for Smith, 29, in the offseason. He’s supposed to be what Ted Ginn Jr. once was for Carolina — a deep threat who can keep NFL safeties honest and burn them occasionally. And Smith knows that no one is going to quite believe he can do that until he actually does it.
“Obviously,” Smith said, “I know I can play. But it doesn’t matter. I’m on a new team and I’ve got to earn everything. You have to earn their trust. I’ve been able to accomplish some cool things in this league, but I’ve also been moving around the past few years, you know what I mean?”
That’s true. The Panthers are Smith’s fourth team in his eight-year career — the Super Bowl wins came in Philadelphia last season and in Baltimore five years before that. He has averaged a shade under 30 catches per season the past three years, a modest number considering Christian McCaffrey caught 80 passes for Carolina a year ago.
But Smith isn’t supposed to be a possession receiver. He is supposed to be the guy who can sometimes catch a 40-yard pass and also be good for a 20-yarder every now and then. It is quite likely Smith will start opposite Devin Funchess in Week 1, but he will need to hold off a challenge from rookie DJ Moore and perhaps others to keep that job.
Smith’s first camp practice as a Panther contained some good moments, like the sideline route in which he grabbed a ball he thought Cam Newton might put elsewhere.
“Cam has the tools,” Smith said. “We have to elevate our game because we know that he’s going to bring it.”
But on another play, Smith was supposed to block No. 59. It did not go well.
“I had a bad play trying to block Luke Kuechly,” Smith admitted.
Smith has already made some headlines in Charlotte for both his social-justice concerns and charitable work. He is unafraid to publicly support the NFL players who protest during the national anthem and is more outspoken on that issue than just about anyone the Panthers have ever employed.
“The protest during the anthem to me?” Smith said. “It is what it is. It continues to keep the conversation going. I wish we’d focus more on the work and what the real issues are. We keep talking about the protests. Let’s talk about why.”
What Smith wants most right now, though, is to figure out the football part of things with his new team. And when he surveys the locker room, he sees the sort of talent that can win a lot of games. Maybe.
“I think the talent level is there,” Smith said, “but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out there and do it. ... We know we have the ability to win it all. But so does, probably, more than half of the league.”
So Smith is batting away complacency wherever he sees it. “It’s just about being myself,” he said. “I’m not trying to be a hero or this guy like ‘Hey, I’ve won a couple of Super Bowls!’ I’m not any better than anyone else.”
As for this Panthers squad, though, he ultimately has a good premonition.
“I’ve been able to play on some great teams,” Smith said. “And this has the feel of one.”