Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 11/20/11
DETROIT -- Lions receiver Calvin Johnson did not catch one of Matthew Stafford's five touchdown passes Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, but he was delighted for someone who did. Kevin Smith, the Lions' third-round pick (64th overall) in the 2008 NFL Draft, returned to his original team on Nov. 7 during the bye week. After leading the team in rushing his rookie season, Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury. In 2010 he was the backup running back, appearing in just six games. On Sunday at Ford Field, all Smith did was rush for a career-high 140 yards on 16 carries (8.8 yardscarry) with two touchdowns, plus catch four passes for 61 yards and another touchdown. "I'm extremely happy for the guy," Johnson said. "Man, I just don't know what to say. I've got a big ol' grin on my face for what he did for us today in his situation. It's just fantastic." Coach Jim Schwartz was compelled to begin his post-game remarks by talking about Smith. "There's a lot of great stories in the NFL and I'm sure there's a lot of shorelines today, but I think the NFL would be hard-pressed to find a better story than Kevin Smith," Schwartz said. "He's a guy that obviously has a lot of talent, but early on in his career was set back with a lot of major injuries. "With the lockout this year and short training camps and things like that, it was really a terrible situation for him in trying to come back. Credit to Kevin. He never lost faith. He persevered. "His talent never went away and when he was able to get healthy and get another opportunity, he took advantage of it. I think it's a great story." It wasn't just Smith's performance on Sunday that amazed his teammates. It was what he was doing when he wasn't with the team. "Aside from how how great he is, the type of leader he is, the touchdowns he scored, you've got to compliment him on being in shape and being ready to play," receiver Nate Burleson said. "A lot of guys in that situation would have been resting, relaxing, figuring that I'm not going to give it a shot. Kevin was ready to work. "I asked him when he first got signed, I said, 'What have you been doing?' He said. 'Just staying ready.' "I guess there's nothing more evident to that statement than what he did today." Center Dominic Raiola, who helped create holes for Smith then and now, has watched him grow since his rookie season. But even he couldn't have foreseen Sunday's performance. "It's a feel-good story," Raiola said. "I don't think he's looking for any sympathy. He was a third-round pick for a reason and he came back more locked in and more focused than I've seen him -- I've seen him develop because I've seen him since he's been drafted." Smith was asked what his daily routine was while he was at home. Smith made himself a regular at Bommarito Performance Systems in Aventura, Fla. "Wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning, train 'til 12, go home and play with my son," Smith said. "Go to sleep, wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning, train 'til 12, go home and play with my son." Smith never let himself think about the possibility that a team would not pick him up. It just turned out to be the team that knew him best had a need that he could fill. "It's not really tough if that's your will," Smith said. "I've always believed in myself and my ability. I've had some tough breaks injury-wise, but I believed in myself. "When I was getting up and going to train, I'd kiss my son and walk out the door. It really was no motivation. There was nobody to say, 'Come on, a team's going to come calling.' "It just took me five days a week to go to some workouts and not get a job. It's a blessing that the organization gave me another opportunity." Smith provided some stability to the offense after a disastrous first quarter in which quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions and running back Keiland Williams fumbled deep inside Lions territory, leading to a 10-0 Panthers lead. Smith started the second quarter with a 43-yard burst up the middle for 43 yards and finished the drive with a 28-yard touchdown reception. Stafford appreciated Smith's contributions both running and receiving. "It wasn't like we were getting cover-2 the whole game and he was gashing them," Stafford said. "We were getting man coverage -- eight guys, seven, eight guys in the box. "Our O-line did a great job, too, giving them one free hitter and he was making a miss -- and that's what you're supposed to do in the NFL and he did a nice job today." Stafford said that Smith looked "fresh" and "healthy," which Smith acknowledged was a by-product of not getting beaten up for the first half of the season. "That was one good thing about me not being signed the first eight weeks," Smith said. "Although I was healthy, eight more weeks can't hurt anything. "I've been playing this game for a long time and really haven't had a season-ending injury until I got to the league. So I looked at this as an opportunity to get back in the repair shop, get my armor back right and be healthy and just play some football." With Jahvid Best's status for the rest of the season still up in the air because of a concussion, perhaps Smith can be the one to carry the load in his absence.
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