CHARLOTTE -- After more than two months of recovery time, Wednesday morning's brisk practice offered Da'Norris Searcy the breath of fresh air he had been without since Week 2.
It was against Atlanta that Searcy - in his second start for Carolina - suffered a concussion in the second quarter, forcing the safety to put his safety first after being placed on injured reserve a week later.
Taking the practice field four days ahead of Carolina's rematch with Tampa Bay gave Searcy his first opportunity to gauge his recovery process, and the 30-year-old was full of first impressions.
"It was a little rough. I was a bit rusty," Searcy admitted. "Been doing a lot of cardio so my wind was right. Just got to get back in the flow of things. The main thing is I was just happy to be back out there with the guys. It's been a miserable couple months, watching them go to practice and I can't do nothing but rehab and then go home.
"To finally be able to go outside with 'em and put some work in, man, it felt good."
While away from the team, Searcy watched all of the highs and lows of Panthers football, including the talk surrounding the defense's struggle to force takeaways.
His take on what has to be done echoes most of his teammates, and he expressed that he's eager to be a part of the turnaround.
"We got to make sure we do a better job just making stops. Eliminate the little mistakes like missing a tackle here or there that prevents a 'get off the field' moment and turns into another set of first downs," he said. "Little things become big things if you don't take care of them. Those are things we want to fix for sure to get where we want to go, so it was big to be back out there to help."
Wednesday was encouraging, but head coach Ron Rivera was selective when discussing Searcy's status for Sunday, citing the NFL's 21-day evaluation period for players coming off IR.
"We’ll continue to give him a week to really see where is he physically, and then we’ll go from there. We have a couple of safeties that are veteran guys that have been a little bit nicked up, so we’ll have to see," Rivera said. "This is his first real action back on the field, so we’ve got to be smart about it and make sure he is physically ready to roll."
Being about the team is something that Searcy said he's done "since Pee Wee," so the depth chart changes made in his absence will only fuel his desire to help the team improve.
Eric Reid has been starting at strong safety since he was signed on the same day Searcy was placed on IR.
Reid, whose injury history includes multiple concussions, said he was glad Searcy was back because "it always helps to have extra DBs on the field." But, game day aside, he shared that Searcy was one of the first players who helped him acclimate to his new environment.
"He helped me learn the plays when I got here. Been supportive. I'm happy to see him back out there," Reid said. "I've dealt with concussions my first couple years, so I know the type of space that he's been in. I'm happy that he's been able to get back on the field."
Seeing Reid join with little time to prepare reminded Searcy of his adjustment period as an offseason acquisition, and he sought Reid out to offer assistance.
"I told him when he first got here, 'If you need any help, let me know, I know what you're going through right now. I know you're excited to be here, but if you need any help learning the playbook, I'll help you in anyway I can,'" Searcy recalled. "My father always taught me you got to be able to follow before you lead, so that's the main thing."
Searcy will likely serve as a backup after starting in 58 of 109 career games, but he is focused on making sure he's at his best when his name is called.
"I'm just getting in shape. Making sure I'm ready to go so if the time comes where they need me, whether that's for defense or that's for special teams, they know they can use me anywhere," Searcy said. "As long as we win as a team, I don't care. I'm just playing it by ear. Whenever (Coach) Rivera or whoever makes that decision, I'll be ready to move."
View photos from the Panthers practice leading up to their game against the Buccaneers.