CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -As Steve Smith walked into the Carolina Panthers locker room this week, a reporter made eye contact and asked how he was doing.
``I'm a cheerful guy,'' Smith said, not breaking stride and certainly not cracking a smile. ``Just not cheerful enough to talk.''
When the open locker room session was about to end, the three-time Pro Bowl receiver reached for an air horn at the back of his locker and pressed down on the handle, unleashing an earsplitting sound to signal it was time for reporters to leave.
Apparently, Smith is angry again. That's bad news not only for reporters' eardrums, but opposing teams, too.
Nearly impossible to cover on the field, Smith is just as complex off it. Only 5 feet 9, Smith has gone through life with a chip on his shoulder.
He proved the major college coaches that didn't recruit him wrong, going from junior college to a star at Utah. He proved NFL analysts wrong when he went from a third-round pick destined to be a return specialist to one of the game's top receivers.
Fueling it all: being upset.
``That's one view. He's definitely a passionate and emotional player,'' Panthers receiver Keary Colbert said. ``I think that's pretty accurate to say and describe him as. Certain things happen in certain games where it may motivate him.''
Smith is having another good season. He has 35 catches for 496 yards and six touchdowns in six games, despite playing with four different quarterbacks.
On Sunday against Indianapolis, Smith will catch passes from 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde. He'll start ahead of David Carr, who is nursing a back injury. Jake Delhomme was lost earlier in the season to an elbow injury, and undrafted rookie Matt Moore also seen time.
What does Smith think about it all? He was asked last week if he had a minute to talk about Delhomme's injury or his go-ahead 65-yard touchdown catch from Testaverde against Arizona in Carolina's previous game.
``Nope,'' Smith said, before turning his back and facing his locker.
But while Smith remains moody, his teammates say he's matured. Five years after he punched a teammate during a film session, Smith was voted an offensive captain before the season.
He remained remarkably poised during DeAngelo Hall's meltdown in Atlanta earlier this season, when the Falcons cornerback was called for two personal fouls and 67 yards worth of penalties on one drive after Smith got under his skin.
``He's definitely, like anybody, has grown up,'' said defensive end Mike Rucker, Smith's teammate for seven years. ``Being here before him and see him grow up and mature into the football player he is, having him out there on the field gives you hope.
``When you need that play, he's usually there, somewhere, some way. In Arizona, he was there.''
Testaverde is still trying to figure out Smith, both personally and how he runs his routes. But it didn't take him long to figure out he was the guy he needed to look for first.
``There are more than a few guys that have his work ethic and his attitude toward the game,'' Testaverde said. ``But there are very few that have his ability. That's what separates him from a lot of guys.''
Two years removed from leading the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdown catches, Smith still turns heads with his ability to overcome his height, and his surprising strength in breaking tackles.
``When I get home and watch it on the highlights, it's like 'Dang, did he really do that?''' Colbert said. ``Because you don't notice the way he catches it or the way he went up. You see the wide angle on TV, slow motion, and you're like, 'Dang.' I do trip off it sometimes.''
The Panthers will need a big game from Smith on Sunday to stay competitive with the high-powered Colts.
``He has an attitude about him, the way he approaches the game. He's a home-run hitter at any given time,'' Indianapolis cornerback Marlin Jackson said. ``He'll fight with you and he won't back down, even if he's smaller than you.''

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