CHARLOTTE – By the time the 2014 regular season came to a close, cornerback Chris Houston had finally progressed to the point where he could pedal a bike.
Tuesday, at the first day of the Panthers' veteran minicamp, Houston was backpedaling with ease and making an impact like he did for the seven seasons prior to 2014.
"I knew coming back would be a process, but I've been working my butt off a year-plus to get back out here," Houston said. "I thought I did pretty decent today."
Houston, out of football last season while rehabbing from toe surgery, signed with the Panthers on Monday. The hope is that he can come close to recapturing the form that made the former second-round draft choice a starter for the Atlanta Falcons from 2007-2009 and Detroit Lions from 2010-13.
That was the Panthers' hope two years ago when they signed defensive tackle Colin Cole after he had been out of football for two seasons. Since joining Carolina, Cole has played in 31 of a possible 32 games with 23 starts.
"He's healthy, and when guys miss a year or two, it gives their body an opportunity to heal up," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Chris has done it in the past. He has great quickness – showed it today on a nice play. He's a veteran guy, and adding him to the mix can really help this unit."
The 5-10, 180-pound Houston, however, is taking it one day at a time. That's something he learned to do over the last year.
"There was terrible pain every day," Houston said of a nagging toe injury that impacted him throughout the 2013 season. "It got worse during the season and got real bad one time when it got stepped on in a game.
"It was a tough process. I wanted to try to play in pain, but the pain was too overbearing to continue, so I decided to get it taken care of. I could barely even pedal in December or January, but I kept working and getting therapy on it, and gradually over time it got better and better. Now it's real good."
Houston feels like he's stepping into great situation. He's excited about the chance to compete for a spot on such an accomplished defense but also realizes that increases the challenge he faces.
"This is one of the top defenses in the league - I watched them on the tube last year. They can do some great things," Houston said. "I can bring a veteran presence wherever they need me – whether it's special teams, in the locker room, being there if somebody goes down or being a starter. But I'm just taking one day at a time, learning the system.
"I'm still working myself back as far as being in football condition. You can do all the conditioning you want outside of here, but football conditioning is a different thing, so I'm going to keep on working and will be back."