CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis doesn’t view Sunday night’s matchup against the New York Jets as just another meaningless preseason game.
In fact, for Davis it’s anything but ordinary.
Davis is expected to return to live action for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee last September — his third such significant injury. If he can make it back this season he’ll become the first NFL player to return after tearing the same ACL three separate times.
Davis missed the first two preseason games with a strained calf, but said he plans on playing Sunday.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Davis said.
Despite his past history of injuries — he tore his right ACL in 2009, 2010 and 2011 — Davis said he isn’t apprehensive about re-injuring himself.
“If you look at my situation and the things I’ve been through over the last three years what good is it going to do me to go out there and be nervous and be thinking about it?” Davis said. “I’m going to go out there excited and energized Sunday night and get everyone excited about me actually being back out there.”
Davis was a five-year starter for the Panthers and just starting to develop into a star defender when he first tore up his knee midway through the 2009 season at the Louisiana Superdome. It came on a fluke non-contact play in which his foot got stuck in the turf.
He re-tore the ACL the following spring in minicamp while back-peddling in drills and then again in Week 2 of the last season.
Davis’ exact role with the Panthers moving forward remains unclear.
The Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro32) drafted linebacker Luke Kuechly from Boston College with the ninth overall pick and he’s assumed Davis’ spot at weak side linebacker — and looked extremely good so far.
Coach Ron Rivera said Davis has been working some on special teams and will see action in substitute packages on defense, but his role will dictated “by how well he looks” in games.
“I’m pretty confident in what he’s doing. He looked good and we’ve increased his workload,” Rivera said. “If he comes along and things get better and better his role will grow. As he gets more and more comfortable with being back his role can grow.”
Davis has incredible respect within the Carolina locker room because of his perseverance.
Many players know how hard it is to come back from one knee surgery. But three?
“To see him for the third time, as strong as he is mentally, every day grinding and now he’s back out there, it makes you want to make sure you’re there, too,” said fellow linebacker Beason, who spent most of last season rehabbing with Davis after he tore his Achilles in the season opener. “Because we said we’re going to do this together, and when the season started we were going to be healthy.”
Beason isn’t there yet.
He’s still hindered by a hamstring injury and hasn’t played a game yet, and it’s beginning to look as though he won’t see any action at all in the preseason.
As far as Davis goes, anything the Panthers can get out of him at this point is a bonus.
They gave him a contract extension with a two-tier signing bonus after he tore his ACL a second time in 2011, a remarkable sign of loyalty in a business where that is often hard to find. But when Davis did the unthinkable, tearing ligaments again in the second week of last season, there was no choice but to restructure.
Davis did eagerly, accepting a league minimum base salary and agreeing to forfeit the second portion of his signing bonus worth $6 million.
“We have an organization that’s definitely on your side, and you don’t see that too often in this league,” Davis said. “Peyton Manning has done so much for the city of Indianapolis and for him to get injured one year and he’s not the guy anymore?”
Davis was as excited as anyone for the start of training camp calling it “a day I’ll never forget,” but just two days in he strained his right calf. He returned to practice last week.
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