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Carolina Panthers

Notes: Defense happy that Davis is healthy


CHARLOTTE – After three major knee injuries in less than two years, there's naturally a concern for Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis' health on a week-to-week basis.

So far, so good.

Davis played without hesitation in Week 1 and was back to his playmaking ways, which was a welcomed sight for head coach Ron Rivera.

"Every time (Thomas) gets on the field, there is more assurance that he's returned to full form," Rivera said.

Before the start of the season, Rivera and the coaching staff discussed Davis' injury-marred past at length, trying to determine how best to utilize him.

"We decided you can't baby him, you can't hide him. You have to play him," Rivera said. "That's the only way for us and for him to know. I couldn't be happier for a young man who's worked so hard."

Davis played in certain defensive packages and saw action on special teams in the season opener. The coaches remain sensitive to the health issues Davis has had to overcome.

"We have to be," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said Monday. "This is a young man that's coming off a major knee injury. We know what he means to this team, and we want to have him as long as we possibly can.

"The impact was felt from the times he was on the field - whether it was special teams to the defensive side of the ball. He's a big part of who we are and what we do."

Davis communicated to Rivera that he's ready and willing whenever his number is called.

"When he first came back he said, 'You know coach, I want to do this (help on special teams), because I could get hurt walking down the street,' " Rivera said. "He's got the right attitude."

INJURY UPDATE: Running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) practiced fully Thursday, and Rivera said there was noticeable improvement in Stewart's cutting from the day before.

"As practice went on, you saw that he wasn't thinking about (the ankle)," Rivera said. "That was a good sign."

Wide receiver Steve Smith (knee) and guard Mike Pollak (shoulder stiffness) were limited in practice.

Rivera said Smith felt some soreness as practice went on, so the athletic training staff elected to shut him down for the day.

Linebacker Kenny Onatolu missed practice again following the death of his mother, and defensive end Greg Hardy was absent due to illness.

"Greg was sick today, so we sent him home," Rivera said. "He wasn't feeling very good this morning."


JIMMY CAN PLAY: When rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly worked his way around the Bank of America Stadium bowl signing autographs at Fan Fest, one fan caught him off-guard by offering up a basketball to sign.

That ball could come in handy Sunday, when hoopster-turned-tight end Jimmy Graham brings his hard-to-guard game to the stadium as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

"Maybe we can put a basketball out there to distract him," Rivera joked. "He's a good football player, that's the bottom line. Just look at how dynamic he is with the things that he does.

"He's a big part of who they are, and he's a guy that plays with a tremendous amount of attitude."

The 6-7, 265-pound Graham, once a serviceable basketball player at the University of Miami, played football for the Hurricanes his senior year and has now taken the NFL by storm.

In his second NFL season last year, Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. In two games against the Panthers, he made 16 catches for 226 yards and one touchdown.

Kuechly, who excelled in pass coverage in the preseason but struggled some in the season opener, knows he'll have his hands full when he's matched up against Graham, a native of Goldsboro, N.C.

"He's a big guy, and he's athletic," Kuechly said. "During camp, I was matched up with a guy who does some of the same things in Greg Olsen – he's tall, athletic and runs good routes.

"I didn't do quite as well in pass coverage (in the season opener). They caught a couple on me, but moving forward it's just about not making the same mistake twice."

Staff writer Max Henson and senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.

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