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Friday, April 11, 2014
Steve Smith comfortable in the fast lane

By David Newton

CONCORD, N.C. -- Steve Smith didn't look particularly comfortable climbing behind the wheel of a top fuel dragster at zMax Speedway on Friday, but the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver is very comfortable with his new NFL team.

"The confidence I have in myself, I look good in any color," said Smith, the guest of NHRA star Antron Brown during the 4-Wide Nationals. "I look good in purple, so I'll be fine."

Smith was released by the Carolina Panthers, his home for his first 13 NFL seasons, in March. Twenty-four hours later, he signed with the Ravens.

The Panthers went on to lose Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon -- their next three wide receivers behind Smith in 2013 -- in free agency.

General manager Dave Gettleman has taken a lot of heat, first for releasing Carolina's all-time leading receiver and then for not keeping others from a corps that helped the Panthers to a 12-4 record.

He's brought in Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant, all second, third or fourth options from other teams. That hasn't justified the other moves to the masses.

Smith isn't concerned.

"What I think about what's going on is I concern myself with what's going on in Baltimore and I no longer concern myself with what's going on with the Carolina Panthers," Smith said. "But I concern myself with what's going on in Charlotte, N.C.

"I do my football camp here. But I no longer have the luxury to be a part of that [team], so I don't concern myself with it. Not that I'm upset. Not that I'm mad. It's just the fact of the business."

Smith has taken the high road since his release. He plans to keep his home in Charlotte and enjoy days like this one that he shared with his son, Boston. He hopes to one day retire as a Carolina player.

But for now his football focus is all on Baltimore. Smith, 34, wouldn't even comment on Carolina coach Ron Rivera recently saying he needed to "tone things down" in his practice and workout routine or risk wearing himself down.

"I'm focusing on April 21st," Smith said. "April 21st I'll be in Baltimore doing our workouts. What's in the past is in the past. At the end of the day, you go to the kitchen, you get a washcloth, you pick up the spilled milk and move on.

"That's what I'm doing, moving on."

Smith still keeps in close contact with some of his former teammates. He, LaFell, Ginn and Hixon get together and occasionally have "group texts."

"Who your current employer is does not change the friendship or camaraderie we've built," Smith said. "Just because we collect checks from different organizations doesn't mean we cut each other off."

While Smith wouldn't talk about what Carolina has done to replace its wide receivers, he was interested in Brown's response when I asked if he could play wide receiver for the Panthers.

"They don't need my skill set," Brown said with Smith leering on with a big smile.

Brown let Smith warm his 10,000 horsepower engine up between qualifying runs, albeit the car was off the ground so the wheels couldn't move.

Smith had no desire to make a run down the track.

"Antron will also bill me and he will know I will be able to pay for it and so I think I might buy him a new car, and I'm not trying to go down that road," Smith said. "As athletes, sometimes we can come across and say I can do it. I can't do it. You can try, but you can't.

"You can't do what these men and women have been doing and perfecting since they were young kids. So you can't just wake up out of bed and think you're going to be a driver ... .  And I also believe drivers are athletes."

Smith could pay for one of Brown's car because the Ravens gave him a three-year deal worth $11 million. He also received $5 million from the Panthers this season in guaranteed money and deferred bonuses.

But Smith wasn't interested in driving on this day. He was just interested in being a dad and seeing how another athlete does his job.

"This is who I am," he said. "I've got the opportunity to experience another athlete's world, and it happens to be home. This is my home ... . This is in my backyard. This is my community. This is my town.

"But it's no longer my team."