CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Thomas Davis believes the knee brace he's worn the past three years has slowed him down.
Now that he's shed it, there may be no stopping him.
"I can just go out, redirect and play fast," said Davis, who sported his new look at the first day of the Panthers' three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday. "I'm to the point where I feel very confident and comfortable with it right now. I'm out here moving around really well, and I'm just excited to be out here."
Davis wasn't yet wearing a brace four summers ago, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time in seven months. He had worn one for every practice and game since, including when he injured the knee a third time early in the 2011 season, but decided in conjunction with the training staff to ditch the brace last month.
His knee looked as good as new last season, when Davis racked up a career-high 151 tackles.
"I have no concerns about his knee and the stability of his ACL," head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion said. "He's always had great strength, but I still wanted to protect his knee for the first couple of years back. But now we've got two-plus seasons under our belt, and he's confident and has great stability and strength in his knees, so he's able to pull it off now. He's super-happy about that."
While Davis has never hidden his disdain for the brace, he said there's no way he'd take the field without it if the training staff didn't approve. With the nine-week offseason workout program ending this week, Davis' top priority for the team is to take a safety-first approach.
"Really, the most important thing that can come from these three days is guys staying healthy," Davis said. "We've installed a bunch of our defense and offense, and guys know what to do.
"Now it's all about coming out here, being smart, taking care of your body and making sure you're healthy going into training camp."
NEWTON ON FIELD: Quarterback Cam Newton is heeding Davis' advice. Three months removed from ankle surgery, Newton appeared to be moving well Tuesday but didn't take part in team drills.
"He did some three- and five-step drops today – actually did a little bit more than I thought he would – but he's right on schedule and progressing very well," head coach Ron Rivera said. "There was an outside chance that he could go full, but he's on track and we're not going to force it."
Newton could be back to full participation when the Panthers open training camp in late July.
"Each day is a closer step to being 100 percent," Newton said. "We're rounding the last curve, and I'm just trying to be smart about it, do everything the trainers ask me to do and more to see where that gets me."
LINE ITEM: The Panthers' plan at offensive tackle came into focus a little more Tuesday with the return of Garry Williams to action. Williams, sidelined last season after suffering a left knee injury in the opener, worked with the second team at left tackle with Byron Bell predominantly at left tackle and Nate Chandler at right tackle.
"That cuts down on how much flipping we're going to do," Rivera said.
Williams was slated to be the Panthers' starting right guard in 2011 and 2013 before suffering season-ending injuries, but he has made 21 career starts at tackle versus 13 at guard.
If Williams doesn't earn a starting spot, his versatility should serve both him and the Panthers well.
"Right tackle, left guard, right guard - Garry is pretty much going to be a jack-of-all trades for us if he doesn't win a spot," Rivera said.
QUICK KICKS: Cornerback Josh Norman was among the defensive backs donning boxing mitts for portions of practice. "We're trying to emphasize that we have to keep our hands off receivers. It's one of the points of emphasis the league has talked about," Rivera said. "Hopefully that will develop some good habits while breaking some bad ones." … Safety Roman Harper was excused from practice to be with his wife in New Orleans for the delivery of their daughter.