TAMPA — Pro Bowl kick returner Clifton Smith practiced Thursday for the first time since sustaining a concussion Sunday, saying he was feeling good after a "rough couple of days."
Smith said he hoped to play against the Patriots on Sunday in London but understood why the team is being cautious with him.
"I was definitely worried (after the hit), but it wasn't as bad as lot of people thought it was," Smith said. "It's football; things happen. Bounce back and I'm good to go."
Smith said the Panthers' Dante Wesley called to apologize for launching himself at the second-year return man while Smith, who had not signaled for a fair catch, was awaiting a second-quarter punt.
Wesley was penalized and ejected for the hit he said was mistimed, then suspended for one game without pay by the NFL. Smith, who left the game, said he appreciated the gesture by the eighth-year defensive back and accepted his apology.
"It's football. Just like (coach) Raheem (Morris) said, 'Gunfighters get shot sometimes,' '' Smith said. "I took mine on the chin and move forward from there."
Smith said he "didn't realize what happened until I went home and watched it" and will continue to field punts with no fear.
"You can't be scared to play this game. You can't worry about it," Smith, 24, said. "I'll just still trust my teammates to do their job, and they expect me to do mine, so I'll just take it from there."
REDEMPTION TIME? RB Derrick Ward hasn't made quite the impact many expected after signing a four-year, $17 million deal in the offseason. Ward, who gained 1,025 yards last year with the Giants, has rushed 33 times for 135 yards in six games.
He had only one carry against Carolina, fumbling a pitch from QB Josh Johnson. Ward hasn't talked much with Tampa Bay area media this week, and Morris said he hadn't met with the six-year veteran.
"I'm sure he's not doing well," Morris said when asked about Ward's touches.
The coach said he likes Ward's work ethic as well as what he does in practice and games, and believes he "can't wait to get back and redeem himself."
"Derrick Ward is fighting his demons, and he'll be ready to come back and play," Morris said. "I'm counting on Derrick Ward to come in here. When it's his turn, he'll go."
DEBUT TIME? Rookie DE Kyle Moore, who missed the first six games after knee surgery, said he is "100 percent" and hopes to play Sunday. "It's time," he said. "I've got fresh legs. … I hope they put me in the game plan this week and I can go out there and spark the defense a little bit." Morris said there's a competition among Moore, Dre Moore, Michael Bennett and others, and he will "reward the best guy."
INJURY REPORT: CB Aqib Talib was limited in practice with a hamstring injury. Morris said the hamstring has bothered Talib for four weeks. Smith's participation was limited. DT Chris Hovan (ankle), WR Michael Clayton (hamstring) and DT Ryan Sims (hand) participated fully.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com