Steve Smith having fun in Carolina again

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The difference between this offseason and the last one for Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith is about as big as the difference between Spam and a well-cooked porterhouse.

Smith cleared out his locker after the end of the 2010 season, his worst full season since becoming a regular in Carolina, and asked for a trade away from the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2001 draft. That trade never materialized, leaving Smith to play for new coach Ron Rivera and new quarterback Cam Newton.

Smith didn’t get what he wanted, but, to paraphrase Mick and Keith, he got what he needed. Smith caught a long touchdown pass in Week One and was on his way to a monster year in an offense that did a 180 degree shift from the 2010 edition. Smith wound up in a Pro Bowl and he’s spent this offseason talking about bigger things to come.

In an interview with Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, Smith explained that the biggest difference is that he’s having fun again after the dismal 2010 season. The coaching change helped — Smith thinks the previous regime cast him in a bad light — but mostly it’s about the changes on the offensive side of the ball.

“The only thing that’s driving me is just to have fun,” Smith said. “That’s one thing about this offense – it’s fun. Any offense where the ball is being moved, it becomes fun.”

Newton, Rivera and Jonathan Stewart all give Silver glowing quotes about Smith, who has taken on a veteran leadership role on a young team. The whole piece is well worth an entire read, if only to see how Smith compares himself to Old Yeller. With a new contract extension and that super fun offense in place, Smith doesn’t seem likely to want out of Carolina again until he’s ready to stop playing football altogether.