ALBANY, N.Y. – Maybe it’s time to stop referring to Steve Smith of the New York Giants as the other Steve Smith.

Sure, Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers is a four-time Pro Bowl pick who is still one of the NFL’s top receivers.

But Steve Smith of the Giants doesn’t deserve second billing, not after last season. The fourth-year receiver shattered New York’s single-season team record with 107 catches, earning his first Pro Bowl berth.

What made the emergence more impressive was that Smith stepped up when the Giants were looking for someone to replace the now imprisoned Super Bowl hero, Plaxico Burress.

Smith smiled when asked if it was time for him to stop being called the other Smith.

“That would be nice,” he said. “I want to go out there and show it again this year, just to show everybody. (Carolina’s Smith) had a lot of great seasons. I want to go out there and do it again.”

Smith came to camp as the undisputed leader of a very young receiving group that features Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks as the No. 2 and 3 targets for Eli Manning.

Manningham and Nicks are constantly asking Smith for tips.

Manningham, in his third season, is 24. Nicks, in his second season, is 22. Smith, in his fourth year, is the old man at 25.

“It’s kind of weird because they’re listening to me and I’m still kind of young, too,” Smith said. “It feels good.”

What Manningham and Nicks can see in Smith is his work ethic. After almost every practice, Smith seems to hang around to catch a few extra passes, talk to the coaches or Manning, or simply work on a move.

“He’s a guy who went to the Pro Bowl last year, but he’s also the first guy, one of the first guys, on the field getting extra work, and staying out there after,” new receivers coach Sean Ryan said.

Unlike Nicks, last year’s first-round pick, Smith isn’t a speedster. He’s a polished route runner who can make defensive backs look silly with his moves.

When they’re not expecting it, he can run past them. The other day in practice, he beat cornerback Corey Webster and safety Antrel Rolle on a deep post pattern in catching a pass.

“Steve Smith has continued to grow and develop as an inside receiver, which I think all of us expected,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “But he also did a great job when he was outside, which is something I don’t think all of us had anticipated. He’s just a complete, all-around receiver.”

Smith also has become Manning’s go-to guy. His 1,220 yards receiving were third in the NFC last season and eighth in the league. His seven touchdown catches led the Giants, and were six more than he had in his first two seasons.

Injuries limited Smith early in his rookie season, but he came on late as a third-down receiver, making five catches in the Super Bowl for 50 yards. He had a team-high 57 catches in 2008. His career took off last season.

“Last year really was the first time that he was a full-time starter, moving around,” Manning said. “We put him in different spots and he had a great season.”

Manning and Smith have become a team. The two sit next to each other in the meeting room and talk while they’re watching game or practice videotapes. They also talk a lot between plays.

“He’s just gotten really good at understanding defenses and getting a feel for where the open holes are and finding ways to get open,” Manning said.


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