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Panthers hamstrung? WR Smith questionable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Keyshawn Johnson looked at a group of
reporters and tried to guess what the newspaper headlines would be.

"Steve Smith not here. Panthers doomed," Johnson said
Wednesday.

Not quite, but there is reason for concern as Carolina's All-Pro
receiver experienced more hamstring trouble. He is questionable for
Sunday's game against Atlanta.

Smith, who missed 17 days of training camp with a strained left
hamstring, did not practice Wednesday because of pain in his right
hamstring. Coach John Fox said Smith suffered the injury in
practice Tuesday.

"He tweaked his other hamstring and we rested him today," Fox
said. "We'll see how he looks tomorrow."

Smith, who didn't have either hamstring wrapped while in the
locker room after practice, was evasive when asked if he'll play
Sunday.

"Today is not Sunday," he said. "I didn't get my Ph.D., so I
don't know. I've had worse days, so I'm just going to plug away."

Smith injured his left hamstring during the second practice of
training camp July 29. He missed more than two weeks with the
injury before returning to practice.

Smith was then sidelined another week with an ingrown toenail
that required stitches, and did not play in any of Carolina's four
preseason games.

"He practiced 10 times and he's in great physical condition,"
Fox said. "We're just taking it slow, but he had a little
setback."

Smith was the league's top receiver last season with 103 catches
for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns, becoming the first player since
Sterling Sharpe in 1992 to lead the NFL in all three categories.

If Smith can't play, either Keary Colbert and Drew Carter will
line up opposite Johnson against the Falcons.

But Johnson believes Smith will suit up.

"I expect to see him playing. I don't know anything different,
other than he looks fine to me. But I'm not a doctor," said
Johnson, who has yet to play with Smith in a game since signing
with Carolina in the offseason. "I think when it happens it will
be fun. Hopefully he's playing possum."

If Smith does play, expect him to be fired up. Falcons
cornerback DeAngelo Hall took a shot at Smith this week despite the
fact Smith beat him for the decisive touchdown in a 24-6 win last
December.

"I didn't think he had much success against me. Period," Hall
told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They weren't trying to go
downfield with him at all. They threw a couple little narrow
routes. Obviously, he broke that one. Bad tackling. Fluke play. You
do it 10 times, I make that play nine times. So besides that one
fluke play, the guy didn't have that much success against me."

Smith was quick to respond Wednesday.

"I guess when you're on the top you have a lot of people trying
to knock you down," Smith said. "Some people are lower than
others on the totem pole by age, performance and talk.

"When you talk, you're obviously insecure about something. You
talk long enough, you'll hang yourself."

That competitive streak has led Falcons coach Jim Mora to plan
on seeing Smith on the field Sunday.

"Lots of him," he said.

The Panthers also have some other injury concerns. Cornerback
Ken Lucas bruised his arm in practice Wednesday and his status for
Sunday's game is unknown.

Linebacker Na'il Diggs dressed for practice Wednesday and is
listed as questionable with a sprained right knee suffered in the
third exhibition game.

Defensive tackle Jordan Carstens practiced, but is listed as
questionable with an elbow injury.