SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Four days after kicking his helmet in disgust and climbing into a golf cart thinking his shoulder was broken, Carolina receiver Steve Smith was smiling and throwing tight spirals.
Fittingly, Smith's surprisingly quick return to practice Friday ended with a throw-and-catch session with inexperienced receiver Kenny Moore. They spent much of the offseason working out together, with Smith's young son tagging along, an experience that conflicted with the Panthers star's loner persona -- and renewed his enthusiasm.
"It gave me those childhood memories of what I grew up with. I really liked how I felt, falling back in love with the game," Smith said. "So getting hurt, that's why I took it out on my helmet. Seven months of working hard, and then in seven seconds you're back in the same position.
"But in hindsight it's not broken."
X-rays were negative Monday night and after a day in a sling, Smith had progressed to an exercise bike. It was still thought he'd miss most, if not all, of the preseason.
So the sight of Smith running with his teammates in full pads Friday morning at training camp shocked onlookers. Saying he suffered just a "pretty good bone bruise," Smith participated in individual drills before sitting out the team work and avoiding contact.
"It doesn't hurt as much. Sleep is kind of difficult, but it's all right," said Smith, who wore a wrap under his shoulder pads. "I wouldn't say I woke up and said, 'OK, I'm healed.' But it's getting more tolerable."
Smith may sit out Monday's preseason opener at the New York Giants, but his speedy return was welcome news for coach John Fox, who lost starting defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon on the first day of camp.
"I think he'll make it," Fox said, smiling. "I think the early prognosis around the country was maybe not, but he'll be OK."
Smith was in good spirits Friday and talking about his unique offseason. He acknowledged he did much reflection after turning 30 and before he came to training camp, which last year included Smith breaking then-teammate Ken Lucas' nose and getting suspended two games.
Smith vowed to become a team leader, and he changed his offseason habits to work out with Moore, a Wake Forest product who has yet to appear in an NFL game.
"There were a few times where we were both tired and getting our butt kicked," Smith said. "I looked at him and I was happy he was there. It was the first time in probably nine years I worked out with somebody. So that was a good thing."
It was also why Smith was so frustrated when he collided with cornerback Chris Gamble and slammed his right shoulder on the turf. Smith had been plagued with shoulder pain since late in the 2007 season.
"I was working and it felt great and then, bang," Smith said.
The Panthers can't afford to lose their top receiver, who had 78 catches for 1,421 yards and six touchdowns last season. Dwayne Jarrett, who has 16 catches in two seasons, worked with the first team again Friday.
But Jarrett lined up there only after a brief moment of tension with the coaching staff when it looked as if Smith was going to try to participate in a 7-on-7 drill.
"I was out there and Coach said go stand on the sideline," Smith said. "I think I actually shocked him. I was putting my mouthpiece in there and he said, 'Did you hear me?' I said, 'Yeah," and he said, 'Oh, I was just double-checking.' Because he thought I was going to debate him."
Instead Smith went quietly to the sideline, before ending practice by getting another quick workout in with Moore.
"Just working on little things. Sitting around you kind of get a little rusty," Smith said. "I get some work with Kenny and Kenny gets some work with me, so we're just helping each other out."