Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis returned to the team’s facilities on Monday morning, and his teammates and coaches celebrated accordingly.
Fellow linebacker Luke Kuechly and starting safety Mike Adams greeted Davis at the door with exaggerated waves and big, goofy grins.
Head coach Ron Rivera wore a black T-shirt with a blue cartoon likeness of Davis and the words “I’m Back” on the front, and hammed it up for reporters’ photos on Monday. Those shirts were passed around to all of the linebackers, including position coach Steve Russ.
“It was really good to have Thomas back in the building,” said Rivera. “I came out and saw him already in the weight room getting his work in. It’s nice to have him back, and looking forward to having him on the football field.”
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Davis had missed the last four games (five total weeks) while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
During that time, Rivera and the rest of the team felt the loss of both a physical leader and an emotional one.
“Thomas is always good for three or four explosive plays in a game, minimum,” said Rivera. “And they bring energy to us. I think that’s one of the beneficial things about having a guy like that, who has that ability to take it to the next level and make something happen.
“In the locker room, you miss his personality. You miss what he brings to everybody, you miss the energy. And, quite honestly, there’s a camaraderie that he has for his teammates and it’s kind of special. He is one of those special ‘locker room guys.’”
Davis will start for the Panthers on Sunday against Washington, but Rivera said that the staff will keep him on a “pitch count” as he gets back into his football legs – even though they are reluctant to do so because they’re so excited to have Davis back.
“We can’t help ourselves,” Rivera laughed. “It’s like when you get something shiny and new, you want to play with it. But like I said, it’s really good to have him back here.”
That means linebacker Shaq Thompson, who has started in place of Davis for the last four games, will again revert more to a situational role, especially if the defense plays in the nickel package. But Thompson will still be the Panthers’ third linebacker in their traditional base 4-3 defense. Backup David Mayo, who played that role with Thompson shifted to Davis’ position, will add depth.
Thompson has 22 tackles, including two for loss, and a sack through his four starts this season.
On Saturday, Davis and his family suffered the loss of his father. He will address media later this week.
“I’ll let him talk to you guys about it,” said Rivera. “He’s going through a little bit of a tough family thing right now. I’ll let him speak on that.”
Olsen takes another step
Veteran tight end Greg Olsen re-fractured his foot in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, but opted out of surgical repair. He had surgery to repair the same type of fracture in 2017, and missed most of the season.
He has been rehabilitating the foot and increasing his workload over the past five weeks, and could return as early as Sunday against Washington, Rivera said.
Wednesday’s padded practice will be huge for Olsen, as the team doctors will evaluate his foot after a full workload and indicate whether playing Sunday is an option.
Before this week, Olsen had been working back into running full-speed sprints on the sideline and running routes and catching passes during practice. His workload increased week by week.
“I think Wednesday will be a big day,” Olsen said Monday afternoon. “Running on the side, running on air, routes by yourself, even though you’re going hard and running hard, you’re cutting and doing all of that you still have to have other people out on the field guarding you, blocking you and making things tough.
“So Wednesday will be a good test. I feel good. And now it’s about taking that next step.”