Steve Smith back by Week 1?

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 20:  Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers breaks free upfield against the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium on December 20, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora is reporting that the Panthers are hopeful receiver Steve Smith (broken arm) will be back for their final preseason game. According to La Canfora, Smith is making good strides in his recovery and he should return by Week 1 of the regular season if he can’t play in Carolina’s final preseason game.

It’s an understatement to say that the Panthers need a healthy Smith in order to compete this season. It’s good that his injury has opened the door for Armanti Edwards, Brandon LaFell and Dwayne Jarrett to get more reps this offseason, but Matt Moore and the Panthers’ passing game couldn’t survive without Smith.

Edwards has turned heads in OTA sessions this summer, but he’s only a rookie and it’ll take time for him and LaFell to grasp the nuances of being a pro receiver. Most rookie wideouts struggle with route running in their first season, so without a veteran presence like Smith in the lineup to help take the pressure off, they’re likely to fail over the course of an entire season.

But if La Canfora’s report is correct, then the Panthers have nothing to worry about in regards to Smith’s injury. He’ll be rusty upon his return, but having him healthy and playing in Week 1 is the only thing that matters at this point and it appears like that scenario will become a reality.

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