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Davis suffers torn ACL

Posted Nov 9, 2009

Davis
Linebacker Thomas Davis is treated on the field after tearing his right ACL in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss. (PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


CHARLOTTE -- Already beset by injuries, the Panthers were rocked Monday by the news that the right knee injury linebacker Thomas Davis suffered Sunday is what they feared most: a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Davis suffered the season-ending injury with 10:40 remaining in the 30-20 loss at New Orleans during a pass play from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas.

"He was backpedaling a little bit and went to break on the ball," linebacker Na'il Diggs said. "His foot stuck or his knee twisted; something (happened). Just looking at it, you really can't tell what happened. It was just one of those freak things."

"It was unfortunate that he got hurt and it was unfortunate he got hurt in the middle of that play," head coach John Fox said less than two hours before the extent of Davis' injury was announced. "But he's a tough guy, a tough-minded guy, and whatever the extent of the injury is I know he'll deal with it in the right manner."

Davis had suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament to the same knee in training camp, but recovered in time to start the regular season. He ranks second on the Panthers with 69 total tackles -- 52 of them solo -- in spite of missing the Week 7 loss to Buffalo with a hamstring injury incurred during practice that week. He opened the season with 18 tackles against Philadelphia and 14 stops in Atlanta.

"It's just unfortunate. He's having a great season. Pro Bowl numbers," middle linebacker Jon Beason said in the locker room Sunday. "I can't think of any outside linebacker in the NFL who's playing better than him right now."

Numbers only tell part of the story of how well Davis had fit into defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' scheme. Weakside linebackers have historically flourished in permutations of the Tampa Two -- most prominently Derrick Brooks in Tampa Bay and Lance Briggs in Chicago -- and Davis appeared to be capitalizing brilliantly, working his way into the league's elite at the position.

"I haven't seen a (weakside linebacker) like him -- on any team I've played on or another team," Diggs said. "Just flat-out crazy talent, athleticism that you can work all offseason to try to get -- and never get it."

It took Davis four and a half seasons to reach this point, a stretch that included time at safety and strongside linebacker before settling on the weak side last year.

"He's become a lot smarter player on Sundays," defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. "He's put the time and work in. He busted his (rear end) in the offseason. He did everything he needed to do to get ready and it was paying dividends for him."

Landon Johnson took Davis' place in the lineup Sunday and also started for him against Buffalo, collecting 10 tackles -- six solo and four assisted -- in the 20-9 loss on Oct. 25. Johnson has also grappled with a shoulder injury in recent weeks, but it hasn't kept him from playing.

"We expect Landon to come in and do a great job again," Lewis said. "He's not Thomas by any stretch of the imagination, but he's as good as Landon can be -- and we can win with that."

"If I end up going in to replace T.D., that's obviously big shoes to fill," Johnson said. "I've just got to go out there, practice and prepare as much as I can and do my best when I'm out there."

Johnson started at all three 4-3 linebacker slots during five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-07 but said he felt most comfortable on the weak side.

"It's what I played the most coming up from high school," Johnson said. "I always played outside linebacker, most often the 'will' until injuries in Cincinnati forced me into playing the 'mike.' When it comes down to it, linebacker is linebacker. The reads are a little bit different, but it's still running, hitting and trying to get to the ball."

James Anderson filled in for Davis when he was sidelined in the preseason.

"We have good guys in Landon and James (Anderson) to step up and fill the role," Lewis said. "They don't have the speed that T.D. has, but we expect them to be in there and be solid, pick it up and go."

Davis' injury adds to a lengthening list that includes wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (knee sprain), tight end Dante Rosario (knee), fullbacks Brad Hoover (sprained ankle) and Tony Fiammetta (concussion) and safety Charles Godfrey (ankle). All five did not play against the Saints, while kicker John Kasay kicked in spite of dealing with a tight left groin that sidelined him for two days of practice last week.

The Panthers already have five players on injured reserve, most notably quarterback Josh McCown and defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Louis Leonard. Kemoeatu, penciled in to start at defensive tackle, tore his Achilles tendon during the first drill of training camp, while Leonard fractured his ankle near the end of his first Panthers start in Week 2 at Atlanta.

"It's the way the game goes. Every year you lose guys that are key to your success," Lewis said. "That's where other guys have to come in and step up and pick up the slack."