Thomas Davis did something Sunday night nobody ever has in the history of the NFL: The linebacker returned to see actual game action following a third ACL injury that should have already ended his career.
Davis has played in just nine regular season games since the end of the 2008 campaign, and the odds were stacked heavily against him completing this return. But there he was Sunday night in the Carolina Panthers’ preseason game at the New York Jets on the field playing football. And he played it pretty well, too.
Among the plays he made was a sack of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez that ended a possession. He also broke up a pass play, was in solid coverage a few times, and made a nice tackle near the goal line perhaps saving a touchdown.
“I didn’t want to come in and just be another guy running around and just showing everybody that I was okay to run around,” Davis said. “I wanted to go out there and contribute, make plays.
“It was a great feeling – preseason, regular season, whatever – to be back knowing everything I’ve been through.”
Davis later said playing was like a “burden” lifted. Nobody truly knows what Davis has gone through dealing with the setbacks and constantly trying to return. But seeing him out there was a victory for Davis and the franchise. The more feel-good stories the better. But this is more than that, Davis and head coach Ron Rivera say.
“He did a lot of good things for us,” Rivera said. “We have to keep him healthy, keep him on the football field, because he’s a huge part of what we want to do.”
Mare gets the boot
Among the players cut Monday was veteran placekicker Olindo Mare, whose 19-year career likely has come to an end. Mare spent last season with the Panthers after signing a 4-year, $24 million contract, but he missed two key late-season field goals and fell out of favor with fans.
He also showed some age in camp over the last month, routinely missing long kicks.
With Mare’s departure, the team is sticking with well-traveled journeyman and CFL veteran Justin Medlock, a left-footed kicker who has performed very well in camp. It leaves open the option, however, that Carolina may bring in another kicker that gets cut between now and when the final rosters must be submitted in a week.
Medlock, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007, has attempted just two NFL field goals. Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said letting go of Mare was a “difficult” decision.
In another change to Carolina’s kicking game, the Panthers also went young at punter, as rookie Brad Nortman from Wisconsin beat out veteran Nick Harris. Carolina did not bring back veteran Jason Baker, and in the end Nortman’s 45.7-yardsper-lick average won out over Harris, who has spent 14 years in the NFL. He’s had six attempts in preseason games thus far.
“It came down to the fact that we have two young kickers with very strong legs who had very good training camps and did well in the preseason,” Hurney said. “It was an extremely hard decision because Nick and Olindo also did very well.”
Gettis gets time to heal
Wide receiver David Gettis has not only been trying to recover from an ACL injury that cost him last season, but also a hamstring injury that has kept him from practicing since camp opened a month ago. As a result, Carolina placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
As per NFL rules, Gettis can’t play in a game until the seventh week of the season, but at least doesn’t count against the roster spots until he is activated, if he’s activated. Given that he caught 37 passes as a rookie in 2010, Carolina wants to see what kind of player Gettis is when healthy again.
“This gives Davis several more weeks to get completely healthy,” Hurney said. “He came off the ACL and then had a pretty bad hamstring injury he’s been trying to get over for the last couple of months.”
Hurney also said that with so many quality players at receiver the team could afford to give Gettis time to heal.