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Davis making plays wherever he lines up

Posted Nov 21, 2013

CHARLOTTE – Thomas Davis' 17-tackle performance against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football set a single-game high for the Panthers in 2013.

But it was a missed tackle on third down in the fourth quarter that was occupying Davis' mind after practice Thursday.

"He was a little disappointed, as well as I was, with a critical missed tackle on (Patriots running back Shane) Vereen on a little check down play," linebackers coach Al Holcomb said. "It's still bothering him today. He's still talking about it."

That's a sign of a great linebacker. So is 17 tackles in one game.

"I've had two games where I had 18 tackles, and we didn't end up winning those games," Davis said. "This one means much more to me. The world was watching. It gave me an opportunity to show what I'm capable of."

Added head coach Ron Rivera: "It was really a tremendous effort."

Davis – who suffered three torn anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee from 2009-11 – is in the midst of the best season of his career.

He's compiled 100 tackles in ten games (his career-high is 136). He's recorded three sacks (his career-high is 3.5). He's posted six passes defensed and one interception.

And he's accumulating those statistics while playing two positions. Davis plays both the strongside (SAM) and weakside (WILL) linebacker positions in Carolina's 4-3 defense.

Holcomb said the Panthers started using Davis in both roles after linebacker Jon Beason – Carolina's opening day starter at weakside linebacker – was traded to the New York Giants prior to Week 5.  

"In training camp, Thomas repped all SAM. Last year, he played the WILL. I felt like he would be able to do both," Holcomb said.

Davis was all for it.

"I think it speaks volumes for what the coaches see in me. For them to believe in me enough to even give me that responsibility – it definitely makes me feel excited as a player," Davis said. "At any given play I can be playing either position. They trust me enough to know what I'm doing, to get lined up and execute."

Davis' well-rounded skill set allows Carolina to utilize his flexibility to create advantageous matchups. The SAM and WILL positions have their own unique set of responsibilities, and Davis can handle both.

"In certain defenses, we like Thomas playing the SAM because he does a phenomenal job setting the edge of our defense. He's a very good pressure, edge rusher for us," Holcomb said.

The Panthers take advantage of Davis' physicality and stoutness against the run when he's playing the SAM.

"When he's playing the SAM linebacker, we're in what amounts to a five-man front," Holcomb said. "We feel good because of the run defense. It puts our MIKE and our WILL in the box. The SAM is on the edge of the defense. It also gives us the opportunity to pressure from different looks."

And when Davis lines up at the WILL, the Panthers take advantage of his athleticism.

"When he plays WILL he may be more matched up in space against a wide receiver, running back or tight end," Holcomb said. "He's a great matchup guy for our defense. You can match him up on tight ends, you can match him up on backs. He's so athletic and physical, and he's very good in man-to-man coverage."

It's rare to see a linebacker play both positions during the same game. Few players have the ability to properly prepare and perform at two spots.

But it's working for Davis and the Panthers. And now, opposing offenses aren't quite sure where No. 58 is going to line up.

"I think it makes it harder for teams to game plan us," Davis said. "I'm just excited about it. It's putting me in position to make plays."

And Davis is making them.

"This is a biased opinion of course," Holcomb said, "but he's playing as well if not better than any other outside linebacker in the league right now."