Cam Newton openly lobbied for Panther wide receiver Steve Smith to stay with the team Friday at Smith's football camp at Ardrey Kell High in Charlotte.
Newton, the rookie quarterback from Auburn whom the Panthers picked No.1 in April, worked the camp for Smith. During a Q and A with the approximately 260 campers, Newton was asked both if he would be a better quarterback than Jake Delhomme -- "Time will tell," he said -- and what team he wanted to be drafted by in April.
Newton said the Panthers, since they had the No.1 pick and he wanted to go first. Then he added, "And I wanted to have someone great to throw it to and I knew Steve Smith was here, right?"
I told Newton later during his brief media availability that sounded like he really wanted Smith to stay.
"That's how yall got it?" Newton said playfully. "That was the message -- and I'm just going to leave it at that. Hopefully he got the message -- and the memo, too."
Newton and Smith have bonded through some text messages and phone calls and Newton also threw some passes to Smith during the one day Smith came to the Panthers' players-only camp and proclaimed then Smith was "at another level."
Smith said at his camp that he had contemplated retirement when his wife Angie had a health scare recently. Doctors thought she might have lupus (she does not -- Smith told our Joseph Person last week that Angie was instead diagnosed with mononucleosis).
"Retirement at that time was one of the things we were thinking about," said Smith, who has two years left on his current Panther deal, " because i needed to be home with my wife. I needed to make sure that i didn't let her down. And now that process has passed, we're thankful for that and now we're going to sit down and talk about things that are less important than her health."
One of those is football. Smith said he plans to play somewhere in 2011 -- he wouldn't say whether he wants it to be with the Panthers. He has reportedly asked the Panthers to trade him.
But the bonding with Newton can't hurt the Panthers' cause, if they decide not to trade him once the NFL lockout ends and instead keep him. Smith has been very impressed with Newton, he said.
"His athleticism speaks for itself," Smith said. "You can see an athlete walk in the door. He doesn't have to wear a sign or a jersey. You can tell if a guy can play or if he can't."
More on this in Saturday's Observer and online in my full-length column about Newton and Smith.