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Carolina Panthers

Davis driving diverse defense

CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Thomas Davis doesn't back down from any challenge, particularly if the challenge is as daunting as squaring off against the NFL's top offense.

That's what Davis and the Panthers' perennial top-10 defense will get to do every day during the team's mandatory veteran minicamp that started Tuesday.

Watch practice – or more specifically listen to practice – for any 10-minute stretch, and it's likely you'll catch Davis chirping with quarterback Cam Newton, who helped Carolina lead the NFL in scoring last season.

"We've been doing it for going on two years now, and it's been good," Davis said. "I love it. Being able to come out here and do that and Coach (Ron) Rivera allowing us to do that, it raises the competition level.

"You can't talk trash and then go out and not back it up. It's definitely raised the level."

That's good because Davis recognizes the Panthers as a whole must raise their level just to match and hopefully exceed what the organization accomplished a year ago, when Carolina went 15-1 and advanced to Super Bowl 50.

The competition is always intense in Panthers practice, and Carolina's competitors come game day will no doubt bring it harder than ever in hopes of knocking off the reigning NFC champions.

Bring it, Davis says, because the Panthers plan to do the same.

"This season is going to be a lot different than last season," Davis said, referencing his belief that the Panthers will get everyone's best shot and must respond in kind. "We understand that it's not just going to happen for us. … At the same time, we understand what we're capable of as a football team if we put it all together and we go out there and play good team football.

"We're just starting over and trying to work our way up to where we were last year."

Every season brings with it some change for even the most stable of franchises, and this offseason the Panthers are dealing with wholesale changes in the defensive backfield behind Davis and Co.

Safety Kurt Coleman, in just his second year with the Panthers but entering his seventh NFL season, is the new leader of the secondary after three starters (Charles Tillman, Roman Harper and Josh Norman) with 27 years of NFL experience between them weren't retained.

Davis, a leader of the linebackers and beyond, is pleased with how Coleman is handling "probably the hardest job of any veteran player we have right now." Davis is also happy with how the rookies have responded to being placed in prominent positions on a defense that has ranked in the top 10 four years running.

"We have a lot of new guys, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Davis said. "It's all about jelling and everyone understanding where they're supposed to be and fitting where needed.

"It's very important for those guys to come in and learn the culture that we've developed around here defensively. It's also important for us as veteran guys to teach them the way things are done. So far, so good."

View photos from Tuesday's mandatory practice.

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