- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of wide receiver Steve Smith's greatest assets is his work ethic.
That also, according to Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, may be Smith's downfall.
At least at 35, which he'll be in May.
Rivera said during Wednesday's NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meeting that Smith needs to tone down his practice habits so he won't wear down late in the season.
Before I go any further, that wasn't why the Panthers released their all-time leading receiver a few weeks ago. Rivera was just answering a question about whether Smith still has what it takes to be a top receiver for his new team, the Baltimore Ravens.
"Steve still has it,'' Rivera said. "There are some things Steve will do very well for [Baltimore]. Steve is an explosive, dynamic player. He's a veteran guy. One of the things, in my opinion, Steve needs to do is learn to tone things down. He practices very hard. He's going to give 100 percent. He's going to challenge.
"At his age, his seniority, he has to handle himself. But he still has it. He made the big catch for us in the playoffs.''
Rivera was referring to a 31-yard touchdown pass Smith caught down the left sideline to give Carolina a 7-6 lead over San Francisco in the second quarter of the NFC divisional playoff loss.
It should be noted that Smith beat the San Francisco secondary after being questionable all week with a knee injury that forced him to miss the regular-season finale.
It also should be noted that Smith's work ethic is one of the things Baltimore coach John Harbaugh wants to rub off on his young receivers.
But Rivera still believes Smith needs to tone his practice habits.
"He's going to wear himself down,'' he said. "Steve wants to take every rep. I'll give you an example. We tell Steve today's your day off. We go out there and he's in pads. He says, 'I just want to wear them out when I go through drills.' The next thing you know he's in team drills.
"That's just the way he is. He wants to do everything all the time.''
Whether Smith will tone down remains to be seen. The chip on his shoulder after being cut by Carolina has gotten bigger. He's said repeatedly he wants to be in the best shape a 35-year-old receiver can be.
And as Rivera said, "Steve will find ways to make plays.''
But sometimes you have to do less to do more.