Sprinting into defensive change

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CHARLOTTE -- There aren't many places where Thomas Davis can go and not be identified as a Carolina Panther.  With that recognizance can come admiration and awe, but for the past two months it can be accompanied by an agonizing question -- what happened in the playoffs?

It's an honest query, only natural to ask of a Panther since the last sight football fans had was of that loss in January.  For that matter, it's something that Davis and some other players ask themselves, knowing all the while that the specter of the defeat can't be removed until the next season begins.

"It still sits on my mind now, knowing that Arizona put us out and then made it all the way to the Super Bowl -- and it very easily could have been us, if we'd had a couple of plays go a different way," Davis said.

"You're not going to get it behind you until you line up and play somebody else again.  "That's one thing that I'm looking forward to.  We've got a long way before all of that happens."

The first step for Davis involved temporary escapes for Davis and his wife to relax and recover from the wear and grind of the season past.  There was a journey to San Diego and another to the Turks and Caicos, a British island territory north of Hispaniola and southeast of the Bahamas. 

"For the season to end that way, it definitely felt good to get away from it all and just relax and try to take your mind off it," Davis said.

On that archipelago, you might think that football is just an afterthought, conferring anonymity on an NFL standout who visits.

"Surprisingly enough, there's a lot of people down there who knew a lot about the NFL," Davis said. "But they didn't really bother us.  They knew we were there for vacation and they knew we were there to relax, and they let us do that."

Relaxation -- both at home and in tropical climes -- is over now that workouts are under way.

"My family has enjoyed me being at home, but my kids are kind of sad to know that we're getting ready to start back up," Davis said. "They know Dad has to go back to work now."

And that means not only starting over on the path to redemption from last January, but learning the intricacies and concepts of what new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks will ask of him and his fellow defenders.

"I think everybody defensively is excited -- not excited to see the (previous) coaches go; we're definitely going to miss those guys and they taught us a lot while they were here in my four years," Davis said. "But it's exciting to learn new things."

He's already learned something by watching what the Colts did over their seven years under Meeks' stewardship -- seasons that saw the Colts produce five different Pro Bowlers who combined for 10 appearances, while finishing among the league's top 11 defenses five times. 

"One thing you know about the Colts -- they were a defense that did a great job of running to the ball," Davis said. "We know that coming in this year, we've got to be in shape.  That's one thing they're going to harp on this whole offseason -- everybody running to the ball collectively, and as a group just being in shape and hitting people when you get to the ball.

"We've got a lot to learn mentally with the new defense that we're putting in.   Definitely I want to make sure that I'm as prepared as I can be strength-wise."

Doing that will take time -- which he knows he'll need, but he'd rather not have, since it will just let the pungent taste of January fester.

"I'm so ready for this season," Davis said. "I wish it could start tomorrow, even though I know we haven't prepared for it."

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