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Carolina Panthers

Side by side


SPARTANBURG, S.C. – "Nothing is promised."

Asked Sunday what he's learned since tearing his left Achilles in last year's season opener, that was Jon Beason's response.

Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis could have told him that. At the time of Beason's injury, Davis had already worked his way back from two ACL tears in his right knee.

But that knowledge must be acquired first-hand to truly be understood.

Davis understood the impending struggle for his fallen teammate and made it clear he would be someone Beason could lean on through the rehabilitation process.

"I'm here for him every step of the way, if he needs any advice or anything," Davis said days after Beason went down. "Even if he needs me to come over and help him move around a little bit."

It wasn't long before Davis would again require assistance himself.

"Not again."

That was Davis' initial reaction to the devastating prognosis.

In the Panthers' next game following Beason's season-ending inury, Davis tore his right ACL for the third time in less than two years.

At that point, Davis wanted to ensure it was the third and final time it happened. He was ready to call it a career.

"When he came in that Monday morning, he looked at me and said, 'Ryan, I'm done. I don't want to do this anymore,'" recalled head trainer Ryan Vermillion. "I said, 'Thomas, I completely understand. Let's just do one more rehab, and then you can retire.'"

His retirement lasted one day.

"After being able to sit down and have a clear head... when (the organization) said they were going to give me another opportunity, that was all I needed," Davis said. "I knew that I was going to put all the work in that I needed to."

Same injury. Same knee. Same long, painful road to recovery.

Rarely does that lead to a spot on the same team.

But if Davis was going to play again, Panthers owner/founder Jerry Richardson wanted to make he sure he did so in Carolina. And Richardson made sure Davis knew it.

"It means so much that they have been so loyal to me with everything I've had to deal with injury-wise," Davis said. "To know that you have an organization that is definitely on your side – you don't see that too often in this league.

"You look at that situation with Peyton Manning. He's done so much for the city of Indianapolis and for him to get injured one year, and now he's not the guy anymore?  It's a true testament for the Panthers organization and how they feel about me after three ACL injuries to still keep me around," Davis said before pausing. "What more can you say?"

Beason and Davis had planned to wreak havoc playing alongside one another in the middle of the Carolina defense.

Instead, they were stuck on training tables, rehabbing so they could walk.

Regardless, they remained side-by-side.

"I was laying there after my surgery when I saw him go down," Beason said. "We got on the phone and said, 'Hey, we're going to do this together.'"

So they did. They recovered together.

For Beason, Davis was an invaluable resource throughout the rehab work. Davis had been through it all before. Twice. he'd gone from starter to spectator for almost two, now going on three, full seasons.

"Sixty-five games straight that I had started. I've always been a part of it," Beason said. "Whenever they say the middle linebacker you come out of the tunnel, and I've always been a part of that. It was a tough adjustment.

"It's a whole lot easier when you've got somebody next to you."

For Davis, Beason was a friend who helped make him believe that a third ACL recovery was possible.

"The fact that we were in there, and we were in there together, we did a great job of pushing each other and motivating each other to continue fighting, to continue to become as strong as we could possibly be," Davis said.

Saturday night, the Panthers wrapped up their first training camp practice of the 2012 season.

For most, it was nice to get it out of the way. Move on to day two, inch closer to the season opener.

Not for two linebackers who spent their 2011 season watching their teammates while nursing their injuries. Not for two linebackers who know nothing in this game is promised.

"We're all paying rent. Whether you're the best in the game or the best to ever do it, when it's over, someone else is going to step up and they'll be talking about the next big time linebacker," Beason said. "You learn to appreciate each play and each moment that you have."

Moments like the one Beason and Davis shared Saturday night, when they walked out onto the field, side by side.

"Great feeling," Davis said. "It's one of those things, when I'm old and gray, I'll still remember that moment. Being able to go out there knowing the work that we put in, all the painful days, all the good days – that moment was what we were working so hard for."


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