CHARLOTTE – Corn Elder had knee troubles before.
A torn meniscus forced the cornerback to sit out the final two games of his freshman year at Miami. After surgery fixed him up, Elder never missed a game over his next three seasons.
But shortly after the Panthers made him a fifth-round pick in last spring's draft, that right knee again began giving Elder trouble. He battled through the majority of spring practices and the first session of training camp. The knee kept barking.
"I thought it was just tendonitis," he recalled this week, "something that was going to get better. I really thought I'm going to get through it and eventually it'll stop hurting. But after the first day, it wasn't getting better so I went and got the MRI. And then ... yeah."
Yeah, we know what happened next. That MRI on the second day of camp confirmed Elder's soreness wasn't related to his previous injury. This was a patella stress fracture, an injury that often occurs over time.
"I went through the combine, Pro Day, everything," Elder said, "had multiple MRIs on my knee and it literally came out of nowhere. It was just a freak injury."
Just like that, Elder's rookie year was over almost as soon as it began.
"Terrible timing," he said with a sigh. "The NFL has always been a dream and I was ready to go. But I know everything happens for a reason and I'm excited to get back out there."
After undergoing surgery in October, Elder was put on a track that would get him back on the field for the first phase of OTAs in mid-April. As long as there are no setbacks. And as he showed in a Twitter post last week, there have been none of those.
"This injury is usually a six-month recovery, so I'm right on schedule," Elder said. "I have my days where it's a little sore, but I'm feeling good. I'm on the right path getting better every day."
Doctors and trainers have completely cleared Elder, who's been at Bank of America Stadium nearly every week day since his teammates' season ended in New Orleans. His daily regimen now includes full sprints and he expects to be a full participant throughout the spring.
The timing couldn't be better from a Panthers' perspective.
With Captain Munnerlyn coming off a disappointing season and two weeks from his 30th birthday, the 23-year-old Elder has a real shot to become Carolina's No. 1 nickel corner in 2018.
"I'm very confident in myself and my abilities. I feel like I'm here for a reason," he said. "I feel like they have a plan for me. Keeping me around, being around the team during last season, going to meetings and everything.
"My job now is to make the best of my opportunity and give it everything I've got."
At Miami, Elder showed tackling skills the Panthers covet in their corners. And while he had only three career interceptions, Elder knocked away 23 passes during his final two seasons with the Hurricanes. Size was why he dropped to the fifth round.
Listed at 5-foot-10, Elder is best suited for the slot. But after sitting on the sideline for nearly an entire calendar year, he first plans to take a swing at the opening opposite James Bradberry.
"A lot of people want to say slot, but I feel like I can play both outside and inside," Elder said. "Last year, before the injury, I got a chance to play outside as well and I feel like I was holding my own. So that's what I'm going to go for this year. If they move me to the slot, that's fine with me.
"But my ultimate goal is to get on the field."