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Carolina Panthers Face the Ultimate Test...In Training Camp

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Carolina Panthers Face the Ultimate Test...In Training Camp

By now, everyone has heard about the Steve Smith-Ken Lucas altercation that occurred in the Carolina Panthers' training camp last week. 

There are—and will be—all kinds of consequences that result from this fight. 

The immediate problems involve individual health and suspensions.

Ken Lucas has a broken nose, and the timetable for his return is not yet known. However, on the upside, it is reported that he only has a black eye and slight swelling around his nose. Lucas was at training camp again Monday morning.

Steve Smith has been suspended for the team's first two regular season games without pay (a total which comes to just over $200,000). However, he did participate in Monday's practice at training camp. 

The fact that Smith will not be playing in the Panthers' first two games of the regular season is bad enough.

Our first game is against the San Diego Chargers. They are widely considered to be one of the top two or three teams in the AFC, and probably one of the top five in the NFL. Enough said.

Our second game is against the Chicago Bears. While this game would seem much easier than the season-opener, at first glance, it will not be. The heart and soul of the Bears is their defense, and without Smith in the lineup, it will be that much easier for them to shut us down. 

This will be a battle of the defenses, and that gives Chicago a huge edge.

In short, the Panthers could easily start out 0-2 and be third—or even tied for last—in the division going into their Week Three game against the Vikings

But there are possible long-term consequences as well.

This incident will test the moral fiber of a team that hasn't been together for more than a couple weeks. 

Guys might pick sides. Lucas and Smith could hold grudges against each other.

What has to happen to retain order is for the team leaders and coaches to reinforce their leadership and move this team forward, ASAP. Don't let anyone pick sides. If I'm coach Fox, I put this team through whatever is necessary to get the players to stick together, stay strong, and survive this rude, sudden interruption.   

But I think that Smith—and probably Lucas, too—are too mature to hold grudges. Both of them—especially Smith—know that they can't afford to let this get any more significant than it is.

Smith needed to apologize to Lucas—to his credit, it looked like he started to do so shortly after the incident, as Lucas was sitting in the medical tent with an ice pack pressed against his face—the team, the fans, and the league.

Actually, I just now saw a headline on NFL.com that said that Smith has apologized. I really believe he meant it. Well done, Smitty.   

Smith obviously feels terrible about this whole thing. He's dedicated his life in the past several years to being a respectable man, great teammate, loving husband, and caring father. He needs to forgive himself and forget this ugly incident to the best of his ability. 

In his first comments to the press after the incident, Smith told Pro Football Weekly, "I feel horrible. That's the thing I don't think people realize, is how remorseful I am, and how, in five or six seconds, five or six years has come crashing down. That's the consequences of my actions. It was a mistake. I have to work toward gaining that respect back from my teammates and from everyone else it affected." 

Smith also is determined to earn his good name back. 

"But I won't let it be the last thing people remember me by as far as a player and as a person. I'm not going to run and hide. But I am not going to allow this moment—this paragraph or this chapter—to define my book of life in the end." 

Lucas, meanwhile, needs to do everything he can to come back from his injury. I don't know how long it takes to return from a broken nose, having never suffered one. Plus, WedMd didn't tell me anything useful on the subject.  

In addition, he needs to forgive Smith and forget this as best he can. Then he needs to focus on football—that is his job, after all. The Panthers need him.   

But this situation isn't all bad.

One party has already handled it perfectly. Coach John Fox and the organization have already suspended Smith for two regular season games without pay. Smith also can't be around the team during the two weeks of those games.

The maximum sentence they could have dealt Smith was four games, but two seems like enough. 

Smith and Lucas were also sent home to cool off for awhile immediately following the uproar. That was very smart—that way the Panthers didn't risk anything worse happening and having to do anything more drastic than what they have already had to do. 

But Smith can still practice before the regular-season starts and play in the preseason games, which should help him prepare for the regular season as much as possible, so that his 2008 debut is as strong as it can be. But at the same time, he must serve his punishment. 

While, as a big Panthers fan, I hate the idea of losing Smith for the first two regular-season games, I do think that this situation has been dealt with flawlessly so far. 

But more must be done for the Panthers' locker room to be peaceful again. Only time will tell how this unfortunate development will turn out. But I do think that it will be okay.   

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