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As Jaycee Horn comes back, his brothers are there to support

Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson

CHARLOTTE — There was only so much Jaycee Horn could really say, at least that you could print on a family website.

See, he's had this conversation before, a few times, actually. Yes, he's coming back from injury. No, he doesn't love to have to talk about it again.

So when he has to answer the inevitable question about what it was like to have this season cut short by a hamstring tear in the regular season opener, the third-year cornerback wasn't angry or anything, but he didn't hold back, either.

"It's sh---y. Excuse my language," Horn said. "I mean, that's what it is, you know. For me, for the fans, for the coaches. I mean, I was brought here to play football. That's what I want to do.

"So it's frustrating but, you know, all I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and you keep going. That's all I know how to do."

It was an honest answer, but what else can he say at this point? He was three games into his rookie year, already showing signs of being a shutdown corner, when a broken foot in Houston ended his season. Last year, he was back and playing at a high level again, but when he broke his wrist against the Lions late, he wasn't able to play in the playoff-deciding game at Tampa (though he planned to cast it and play the following week, Thomas Davis-in-the-Super-Bowl-style, if they had won that game). So for him to go through it again, one game into a season, was hard to describe in more than one of the milder single-word profanities.

"Just the same thing going through everybody else's mind, man. Just hurt again," Horn said when asked about his immediate reaction in Atlanta. "Wondering at that time what the injury was, you know what I'm saying? How long I'd be out, just hoping for the best.

"I mean, it's just, it's not that I don't like it; it's just a part of the game of football, and I had some bad luck. So I don't know the answer you guys are looking for from me. It's just football."

He's almost out of words on this topic.

So, to know what Horn has been like these last few weeks, when he's been around but not really, football-adjacent without being a part of it all, it's probably more helpful to talk to the people he talks to.

Donte Jackson is two lockers down and has walked the same path. He's had his own problems, pushing through toe problems in the past that would have him in and out of the lineup and wondering what he had to do to get on the field and stay there. Of anyone around here, he gets it.

Asked if that caused him to check in on Horn more often while he was out of the loop and rehabbing, Jackson shrugged and said it wasn't even about that.

Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson

"Me and Jaycee talk every day and, a lot of it is not even about anything football," Jackson said. "It's just that we have a lot in common in terms of what stuff we've been through, and we both play corner. We understand the high stakes that are in that position. So we just, we get each other.

"So we don't really like to touch base on that because, at the end of the day, I know that he's a guy who works tremendously on his body, who, who's been doing it since he got in the league, he's just been hit with a lot of unfortunate injuries, you know what I'm saying? So most of the time, he's just making sure that I'm good mentally, and I just make sure he's good mentally because sometimes you just don't need people telling you the obvious.

"And as a brother, that's all I try to be is just somebody that he can lean on for support."

Jackson touched on the key point in Horn's injuries. There's no consistent pattern to them. A pair of broken bones on either end of his body, followed by an explosive-movement soft tissue injury. There's no connection. It's just dumb luck, as unsatisfying an explanation as that may be.

Jaycee Horn

"It's just being a supporter," Jackson said with a shrug. "Like I said, me and him, we brothers in real life. So it's bigger than football. You know, I care more about how he's feeling mentally and physically. I know that he wants to be 100; he wants to be better.

"But this franchise is going to be seeing a lot of him for a lot of years to come, and I just make sure that I keep that in his head and make sure I keep the positive energy going for him. That's what I need to do."

When you're next to a guy going through it, the last thing they need to hear is more about it. So, for his teammates, it's just a matter of offering their presence. Safety Vonn Bell said he didn't know a lot about Horn before he arrived this offseason but was immediately impressed by his talent and his maturity.

"I feel like he's more in tune with, not just his job; he wants to know the whole defense," Bell said. "Where he could cheat plays and go be aggressive, where his help is, and just learn the defense throughout. And that's a huge step for a young guy. At his position, you know, that's what makes a great corner."

But not being available matters, too.

And having been next to players in the past who have gone through runs when they couldn't catch a break, Bell said you can't explain it sometimes.

Defensive backs

"God's got you, man," Bell said of the advice he gives in these situations. "You know, trust the plan. Stick to it. You know, don't ever get down about it. God's plan is always that — his plan, he probably trying to tell you through a sign or trying to tell you something. But you listen to it.

"And, Jaycee, it's just going to help him, especially as a person, a man, to go through it. It will come to him. Everything's going to happen for a reason. This will shape and mold him, build his character, build his integrity. Everything's a test."

So they do what friends do. They stand next to him while he's going through it.

"Just being self-aware. We're always encouraging, always a brotherhood," Bell said. "That's number one, especially in this business. We know how things go down in this line of battle. In this job, injury is going to happen. So we're here to always love and uplift. Just let him know I've got you."

At this point, that's all they can say.

And until Horn can get on the field and stay on the field, there's only so much he can say, either. They're still trying to determine whether he can get out there this week or whether three days of practice is enough after a 10-week layoff. It's not a certainty he plays against Dallas, but he is getting closer.

So the rehab continues, full of long, quiet hours. But Horn has learned — for good or for ill — how to handle them.

"I mean, yeah, it's tougher just because it's back-to-back-to-back," Horn said. "Like, you're going through it again. I mean, rehab's tough for everybody. But going through it over and over again is mentally tough.

"But, you know, I feel like I'm built for it. So I just keep going every day."

At this point, there's little more to say.

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday as they prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys.

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