CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis has torn his right ACL three times in the last three years, something that might convince a lot of NFL players to call it quits.
Despite endless hours of grueling rehabilitation, the 29-year-old Davis still has the desire to play and will get the chance to become the first NFL player to return from three torn ACLs to the same knee when players report to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., for the start of training camp July 27.
Earlier this offseason he restructured his contract, agreeing to forego an $8 million bonus he was due and to play for the league's veteran minimum base salary of $700,000.
Davis did it for the chance to get back on the field and prove he can still play in the NFL.
He also feels a sense of loyalty to the Panthers, who restructured his contract — and gave him a $6 million bonus — after his second knee operation even though they didn't have to.
"I'm just very appreciative of this team to give me the opportunity to come back three times," Davis said. "I think that is part of the problem with a lot of guys that had torn their knees up three times — they were never given that opportunity. So I'm extremely appreciative to the Panthers."
Nobody would like to see Davis stay healthy more than coach Ron Rivera.
When healthy the 6-foot, 240-pound Davis is one of the fastest outside linebackers in the league and has a knack for making big plays. In his last full season in 2008, Davis had 136 tackles with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles and appeared to finally be coming into his own.
He was playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2009 before tearing his ACL for the first time seven games into the season.
For obvious reasons, it wasn't prudent for the Panthers to give Davis the second portion of his signing bonus this year after he tore his right ACL for a third time in the second game of last season.
But Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Davis deserved another shot.
With Davis agreeing to play for the veteran minimum the Panthers aren't on the hook for any salary cap hit if Davis were to reinjure his knee in the preseason.
"His playing ability speaks for itself, but he's also a special guy in our locker room," Hurney said. "He's one of the leaders on our team. You draw up a personality that you want as a Carolina Panther and it is Thomas Davis. I think if there is one guy you root for to stay healthy and make it, it's definitely Thomas Davis."
The Panthers are taking every precaution with Davis.
Since undergoing his third operation last September, Davis has had a number of follow-up MRI examinations, including one earlier this month in which he said he received a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews.
Nonetheless, the Panthers decided to hold him out of team drills during their recent three-day minicamp as a precautionary measure. Davis is a veteran and it was determined that a little extra time off might help strengthen his knee.
Davis was fine with that.
"Everything we're doing right now is designed to make me better, so I'm looking forward to getting out there for training camp," Davis said. "There won't be no holding back then. I want to make sure I'm doing everything in my power to make sure I'm as healthy as possible and ready to go."
Davis said this is as strong as he's felt in quite some time.
"I feel good," Davis said. "Now it's all about going out there and regaining that confidence and being out there with my teammates. I mean, hey, I've been through it enough to know the process and know what to do and what not to do."
It's still unclear what role Davis will have this year on defense.
The Panthers drafted Luke Kuechly from Boston College with the ninth overall pick in the draft and he's been working at Davis' spot at weak side linebacker. Three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason has been playing in the middle, while James Anderson has nailed down the strong side linebacker position following an impressive season a year ago.
Davis isn't overly concerned about where or how much he plays — at least right now.
He's just anxious to get through the preseason healthy and be ready in time for the Sept. 9 season opener at Tampa Bay.
"It's going to feel great to go out there and take the field that first game in Tampa and look back on all of the things I had to overcome to get there," Davis said. "That will be an amazing feeling."