Know the enemy: Saints on Steve Smith

METAIRIE, La. – Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith has been tormenting the New Orleans Saints for so long that none of the current coaches and players were even around when he started doing it.

The ageless Smith (allegedly 34 years old) has faced the Saints 20 times during his 13-year career. Over the past 16 of those games, Smith has caught a total of 83 passes for 1,271 yards and he has scored 10 touchdowns (one on a running play). And he’s never been afraid to jaw back and forth with the Saints’ defenders throughout the heated rivalry.

The feisty 5-foot-9, 185-pounder has always had a unique combination of speed, elusiveness and physicality. Smith is having a fairly pedestrian season this year (54 catches, 632 yards, three touchdowns). But the Saints won’t believe he’s actually slowing down until he’s officially retired.

“He'll be the first to get a retirement card from me whenever that happens,” cracked Saints coach Sean Payton.

Here’s what else the Saints are saying about Smith this week:

CB Keenan Lewis: “Tough guy. He’s 5-8 but he plays 6-5. You always have to be aware of where he’s at on the field.”

S Malcolm Jenkins: “He's been at the top of his game and one of the top receivers in the league since he's been in the league. And that's for a long time. He's played a lot better since (Carolina quarterback Cam Newton) got there -- he's been revitalized. …

“He’s one of the smaller receivers, but he's physical. He blocks well. His routes are great, great hands, and he competes. He's tough. He can go across the middle. He can take punishment -- I think he enjoys getting hit. So it's just one of those guys, especially in the division, he's one of the tougher -- if not the toughest -- receivers we'll play all year."

S Roman Harper: "He's extremely elusive. He's always at his best when he gets the ball in his hands. He runs great routes. He understands how to get open. He's been doing it for a long time. ... He's a man when he's out there, and he plays like it. Size has never been a factor when it comes to him. We understand how athletic he is -- he makes all the big catches, and he's a very tough cover for us."

Payton: "He's very competitive. We had a chance to coach him in the Pro Bowl [after the 2006 season]. He's got a great feel and instinct for routes. He's explosive -- when I say that, his stature, he's very strong in the lower body, which allows him to get in and out, start and stop very quickly and change directions. He's extremely competitive. He was fantastic coaching for that one week, just working with him.

“He's someone that doesn't feel the pressure, in fact thrives on situations of making a play where they need it. What's impressive is the length of his career and his ability to do the same thing. That hasn't changed much. His skill set combined with his competitive nature and instincts have been outstanding. He'll be the first to get a retirement card from me whenever that happens."