Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell told Muhsin Muhammad he had something special in store for him if LaFell got into the end zone in the Week 3 game against the Giants.

Muhammad a Panthers wide receiver from 1996-2004 and 2008-2009 had just banged the ‘Keep Pounding’ drum before the home game when LaFell approached him. LaFell told the former Panther that if he caught a touchdown pass he’d do Muhammad’s famous ball-between-the-legs touchdown celebration.

Sure enough LaFell did the celebration after hauling in a 20-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

“I say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I like the way Brandon plays” Muhammad said.

The gesture was a reminder of the days of Muhammad and it was symbolic of what veteran receiver Steve Smith said at training camp this summer: For the first time since the 2003 trio of himself Muhammad and Ricky Proehl the Panthers have three talented wide recievers in Smith LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr.

In 2003 Smith Muhammad and Proehl combined for 2336 receiving yards which made up 72.1 percent of Carolina’s receiving total.

This year entering Sunday’s game at Arizona Smith LaFell and Ginn have hauled in 352 receiving yards good for 61 percent of the team’s total.

But it’s not just the stats that make the group special Smith said. Having two receiving threats of that caliber around him for the first time in a decade makes everything easier on and off the field.

“A lot of people at times think a supporting cast is about numbers or wins. But for me I look at it as far as guys you can depend on that you can count on that you bond with that you get along with” Smith said. “There are routes where I completely understand that I’m clearing out for Brandon LaFell or I’m attracting a safety to keep it open for Ted. And I don’t have a problem with that because also it’s done both ways. When you have that kind of relationship anything you do is for the betterment of the group.

“Just the whole experience just going through it has been really fun. Those groups of men don’t always happen so when it does it’s pretty cool and special and fun.”

The first group came together before the 2003 season when Proehl a 13-year veteran at the time signed with the team as a free agent. Smith was coming off his second season but his first as a trusted wide receiver under new coach John Fox and Muhammad was in his eighth year as the leader of the wide receiver group.

Smith would turn in his first of seven career 1000-yard seasons with a 1110-yard year as Carolina went 11-5 before advancing to the Super Bowl. Quarterback Jake Delhomme found Muhammad 54 times that season for 837 yards and new weapon Proehl tallied 27 catches for 389 yards as the No. 3 receiver.

“Everyone knew their role on the team” Muhammad said. “I could go get the deep balls Ricky could go catch deep balls but we knew Steve was our deep threat and home run hitter. Ricky was the slot guy who was going to work the middle and be a mismatch. And I was a big guy doing the blocking and doing play action passes and making some of the tough grabs across the middle. We all knew what was asked of us.”

But that knowledge came after the two veterans had a talk with the younger Smith.

“I think the biggest thing Moose and I did for Steve being so young as a receiver and wanting to learn he’s such a competitor – probably the most competitive football player I’ve ever been around – he wanted the ball every play” Proehl said. “And he’d get frustrated when he didn’t get it. We just had to teach him sit him down and say ‘Steve this is a good thing. When Moose and I are making plays this is going to open up opportunities for you.’”

Though Proehl would stay on the team for two more seasons the three receivers wouldn’t play a full season together again. Smith broke his fibula in the first game of the 2004 season and the Panthers released Muhammad before the 2005 season over a contract dispute.

The likes of Keyshawn Johnson Drew Carter Keary Colbert and Dwayne Jarrett all came through Carolina but never made a substantial impact alongside Smith.