Two key starters who finished last season on injured reserve have returned to the field at summer school for the Panthers. Tackle Jordan Gross is back at it for the first time since breaking his right leg, and linebacker Thomas Davis is continuing his return from a right knee injury.
Gross has taken part in individual drills during the first three days of summer school and is excited to be playing football again.
"It's nice to be back," he said. "I feel better than I've felt in years just because I had a six-month hiatus. It's good to be around teammates and being normal."
He suffered a broken tibia and fibula when Atlanta's Vance Walker rolled up on his right leg in a Week 10 game on Nov. 15. Because the fractures were clean, there is no reason why Gross should feel any lingering physical effects in the future.
"I don't think I've been 100 percent since about 2002 (my senior year of college)," Gross said with a smile. "I feel good. I don't have any fears or any lingering issues with my leg. I've been doing all the normal running and lifting. I'm extremely pleased. I know the doctors are real impressed with how it's healed. Everything's good."
Head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion and assistant athletic trainer Mark Shermansky worked countless hours with Gross following his surgery to get him ready to play again. But Gross also credits his son, Teddy, with helping him during the rehabilitation process.
"I did about 1,000 leg extensions with my four-year old on the end of my leg," he said. "They (my children) keep me on my feet definitely and they've been happy the last few months to have Dad back to normal."
Head coach John Fox is another person who is happy to have his left tackle and a team leader back to normal.
"Jordan has been a fixture just like we thought he would be when we drafted him," Fox said. "He's been that guy – both as a performer on the field and as a leader in the locker room and of that unit. So any time you get a guy of his caliber back in there it's definitely helpful."
Davis' participation in summer school is the next step in his comeback after getting back on the field during the team's post-draft minicamp earlier this month. He sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament when his foot got caught in the ground while dropping into pass coverage in a Week 9 game at New Orleans on Nov. 8.
"My leg is feeling great right now," Davis said. "I'm excited about being out here and competing with my teammates."
In some ways, Davis is almost too excited. He ran onto the field and lined up at his weakside linebacker spot with the first unit when the Panthers began their seven-on-seven drills during Tuesday's practice. However, the coaches and medical staff quickly called him back to the sideline.
"Our trainers are trying to protect me from myself right now," Davis said. "It's something that's hard for me, watching everybody compete when I want to get in. But at the same time, I know it's not the best thing for me to get out here and do the seven-on-seven things that we're doing."
The fact that Davis is even back on the field just over six months after undergoing an operation to surgically repair his knee ligament is remarkable. He said having a good attitude has had a lot to do with his quick recovery.
"Once I sat down and prayed to God to take that pain off my heart, everything started to fall into place," Davis said. "I knew I couldn't sit around and be sad about it. I had to get out there and work hard to get back to where I am. I think I have done a great job of working hard so far."
Fox said, "He's worked really hard. I think he's probably ahead of schedule. We'll definitely take it slow with him, though, to make sure he's ready to go. But he's out there working with the guys. He's in great shape, worked very hard to rehab and actually ran a pretty good testing day 40 (yard dash) for us. We feel good about his progress."