CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With Muhsin Muhammad gone, Carolina receiver Steve Smith is hesitant to step into the leadership role left vacant when the Panthers released his All-Pro teammate.
"My whole time here I was the young guy and had Moose to help me and teach me," Smith said Tuesday night during the Charlotte Bobcats game. "It's sort of tough for me to swallow that he's gone. And on top of it, now it's going to be up to me to teach the young guys.
"It's a lot of added pressure."
Muhammad was released after nine seasons with the Panthers last week because the two sides could not re-negotiate his contract. He then signed a six-year deal with the Chicago Bears.
Although Muhammad holds all of Carolina's receiving records, he had been replaced by the speedier Smith as the Panthers' playmaker. Muhammad spent most of the 2003 season as a blocker when Carolina went to the Super Bowl, but when Smith broke his leg in the 2004 season-opener, Muhammad again became a go-to guy and had a career year.
Muhammad set team records last season with 1,405 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns.
The perception has always been that Muhammad resented Smith for taking his catches away, or that the two did not get along.
Smith insisted that was never true.
"He's like family, like a big brother to me," Smith said. "There was never any jealousy. He always did everything he could to help me and help me develop as a player."
Now Smith said that will be his role with Carolina's young receivers, and he's not certain he's ready to fill it. The Panthers do have two veteran receivers remaining on the roster, but Ricky Proehl is contemplating retirement and Karl Hankton plays primarily on special teams.
Carolina drafted a pair of receivers last season, Keary Colbert and Drew Carter. Colbert replaced Smith in the starting lineup after Smith broke his leg Sept. 13.
"Whenever I got myself into trouble, who was it that pulled me aside and told me what I was doing wrong - Moose and Karl. Now I am going to have to be that person to Keary and Drew," Smith said.
Smith led the Panthers in 2003 with career-highs in receptions (88), yards receiving (1,110) and touchdowns (7). He also averaged 28.1 yards per kickoff return.
Before becoming a full-time receiver, he went to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner his rookie season.