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Panthers eager to succeed in post-Chudzinski era

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

(Eds: With AP Photos.)By STEVE REEDAP Sports Writer

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith expects more from Carolina's offense now that former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is no longer calling the plays.

Carolina's offense struggled last year, including during a 16-12 loss to Seattle in October, something Smith blames on Chudzinski. The Panthers' offense managed only three points against the Seahawks.

The outspoken Smith said in a conference call Wednesday that Chudzinski, now the Cleveland Browns head coach, was out for himself and his play calling last year was a ''power move" to show that he was capable of being a head coach.

Smith said Chudzinski was trying to ''position himself to really show that `Hey, I'm capable.'''

''I really believe it was applying for that head coaching job and I think our offense kind of suffered a little bit because of that,'' Smith added. ''At times we got cute and did things that necessarily weren't us.''

Smith pointed to Chudzinski underutilizing running back Mike Tolbert as one of his flaws, but didn't limit his shortcomings to that alone.

''Just a lot of different things,'' Smith said. ''So we're out of that, the past is in the past, we're moving forward and coach (Mike) Shula is going to change things up and he has thus far.''

Shula took over as offensive coordinator this season and has vowed to go with a more traditional running game featuring the running backs more in the offense.

Quarterback Cam Newton, who spoke before Smith's comments became public, said the Seattle game will help the post-Chudzinski Panthers ''find out who we are.''

Newton was held to 141 yards passing and 42 yards rushing in last year's loss to Seattle. Carolina's only touchdown came on an interception return by Captain Munnerlyn.

Capping a frustrating day, Newton had a chance to give Carolina the lead with less than four minutes left in the game, but one-hopped a pass to tight end Ben Hartsock on a fourth-and-goal from the Seattle 2.

''I feel like everybody has something to prove this game - the receivers, the running backs, myself and the offensive line,'' Newton said Wednesday. ''We have to step up to the challenge and, like coach Shula says, answer the bell. What other team would you rather be playing? They're a great opponent and pretty solid across the board.''

Seattle's defense allowed the fewest points in the league last season.

The Panthers, despite a slow start, finished 12th in the league in total offense last year under Chudzinski and 18th in points per game.

But their performance against Seattle last October was one of their worst of the season.

Panthers third-year coach Ron Rivera said Newton is better prepared this year to handle Seattle's stout defense, citing his improved decision-making skills.

''I'm excited about who Cam has become,'' Rivera said. ''I think Cam is still growing, but I think he's more mature and more comfortable and (plays with) a bit more savvy. I think he's learned a lot and he can do those things that can help us win football games.''

NOTES: Panthers linebacker Jon Beason and rookie running back Kenjon Barner were held out of practice Wednesday. Rivera said Beason need some rest and he expects he'll play on Sunday. ... Josh Thomas said he's been told by coaches he'll be starting Sunday at cornerback opposite Munnerlyn.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report

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Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

Tagged: Panthers, Steve Smith Sr., Jon Beason, Cam Newton

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