Brandon LaFell can recall with ease the first training camp conversation he had with Steve Smith.

It was still early in the 2010 training camp at Wofford College when Smith sitting on the sideline with the day off pointed to LaFell.

“He said ‘Hey I’m going to need you just as bad as you need me’” LaFell remembered.

Since LaFell’s rookie season Smith has been pushing the former third-round draft choice in an attempt to groom LaFell into a No. 1 wide receiver. And LaFell has been pushing himself while also knowing that for now the Panthers need him to be the complement to Smith.

“I see it as another year to go out here and prove to everybody that I can really do this” LaFell said. “A lot of people say I’m not a good No. 2 receiver but I’m learning from one of the best guys in the game who’s the No. 1 which I’m trying to be.”

The fourth-year receiver from Louisiana State has shown improvement during each of his first three years. He tallied 468 yards in his rookie year following that with 613 in 2011 before catching a career-high 44 balls last season for 677 yards and four touchdowns.

His yardage total likely would have been more had he not missed two games with a foot injury. But despite the improvement he knows this has to be his year.

“I feel like I’ve progressed every year but this is the last year of my (rookie) deal” LaFell said. “I got to come out here and ball and give the Panthers a reason to keep me around.”

LaFell signed a four-year $2.6 million contract after the Panthers drafted him in the third round and he’s set to become a free agent at the end of the season. He knows his future with the team could hinge on what he’s able to do this fall.