CHARLOTTE, N.C. -With just two catches through Carolina's first two games, Keary Colbert should seemingly worry about his spot in the starting lineup.
"It will happen in time," said Colbert. "It's Week 2 of a long season."
Colbert inherited his spot last season when Steve Smith broke his leg. He was a quiet complement to Muhsin Muhammad and set the Panthers' rookie records for catches (47), yards receiving (754) and touchdowns (five).
But when Muhammad was released in a salary-cap move and Smith returned this season at full speed, it wasn't clear if Colbert was ready to be a top receiver. The Panthers traded for Rod Gardner days before camp began for insurance and let him battle Colbert for the starting job.
Colbert won the spot, but his slow start has prompted questions about how long he can hold onto it.
With Smith facing heavy coverage last week against New England, Jake Delhomme threw to Colbert seven times. He didn't catch a single pass.
So Colbert heads into Sunday's game in Miami with just two catches for 11 yards. He ranks sixth on the team in receptions, behind reserve running backs DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings.
"Football is more than catching the ball," he said. "It's not just about getting the ball and making catches and stuff. That's going to come. It's only the first two games. It's just what happened last week, so you move on and keep working."
But he has Gardner waiting in the wings, eager to get some playing time. Gardner was inactive for the opener and was used sparingly in the win against New England.
"Everybody wants to be on the field, and everybody wants to stay on the field," Colbert said about Gardner fighting for Colbert's minutes. "There's a lot of things outside. You really have to push yourself from within yourself if you want to be great and do better things."
Colbert is quiet and reserved, and also the ultimate team player. He's used to waiting his turn after playing alongside Mike Williams in college at Southern California, so he accepts that Smith will often get the first look from Delhomme.
But Delhomme believes Colbert will get his turn soon enough.
"Certainly, I would like to get him the ball more, but if you force the issue then it doesn't do any good," Delhomme said. "That's the big thing. It will come.
"I know the first year Smitty caught all of these balls and Moose wasn't catching a thing. Then all of sudden, midway through the season it shifted and Moose caught on fire. That's just part of it."
Although Colbert is not the type of player to ask for more chances or complain about his numbers, Smith said Colbert is driven to pick up his play.
"Keary works hard and we both know it's not always peaches and sometimes we just have to work at it and it will come," Smith said. "Everybody gets antsy. I know there are times when Keary talks to me and I talk to him and we both get antsy because you want to be productive.
"You want to make a mark in your trade and you want to be the best at your trade."
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