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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Defense mending


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The Panthers' defense looked good in Saturday's preseason opener against the New York Giants even with about half of the unit's projected starters out of action.

More than half of those now look ready to return.

Linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive end Charles Johnson are set to play when the Panthers visit the Miami Dolphins on Friday, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn likely will be back as well.

Fellow cornerback Chris Gamble's status still is up in the air with hamstring and groin concerns, and linebacker Jon Beason isn't expected to play as he continues to recover from tendinitis in his left Achilles.

Davis won't simply be returning from a one-week absence; he last played nearly two years and two knee surgeries ago.

"It means a lot," Johnson said of Davis' return. "He's a talented guy. He's as fast as the running backs, so he's going to help out a lot."

Johnson, who led the Panthers with 11.5 sacks in 2010, is fired up about making his 2011 debut.

"I got nicked on my shoulder the day before the (Giants) game, so they held me out, but it's all good," Johnson said. "It was difficult to watch. My competitive side wanted to be out there playing, but it was for the best."

STRONG START: One potential starter that was on the field against the Giants was rookie defensive tackle Sione Fua.

He didn't play like a rookie.

"I feel like I did pretty well. I made some good plays," Fua said. "The first few plays I was nervous, so this week I think I'll let loose a little bit, play fast and physical.

"I'm sure once you get in the regular season it will be a little faster with everyone playing a little harder, but getting that first taste, I think I was strong enough to hold the point."


BALL CONTROL: Anything can happen when running back Mike Goodson touches the ball.

The one thing that can't happen, however, happened twice in the opener.

"When you fumble the ball and the other team gets possession, you feel like you let your teammates down," Goodson said. "That's the worst feeling in the world."

Goodson fumbled the ball twice Saturday – losing one of them – after fumbling three times in the Panthers' final two games last season. Yet he continued to make plays when he held onto the ball, rushing for 30 yards on eight carries, catching two passes for 20 yards and returning three kicks for 88 yards.

Goodson, who said he fumbled just twice in college, has reviewed film of former Giants running back Tiki Barber in the pursuit of answers.

"I've just got to keep working on it, keep working on keeping the ball high and tight," Goodson said. "It really happens when you try to make an extra play, when you get in piles and don't wrap the ball up trying to do too much. When you make cuts, you've got to keep the ball towards your body, keep it close."

With kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard line this season from the 30, all three of Goodson's kickoff returns came on kicks that traveled at least two yards into the end zone, including one that went 7 yards deep.

"What's too deep? That back line is way too deep. Anything five yards and up, I'll try to bring it out," Goodson said. "It's different. All of the kicks are going to be at least two or three yards in the end zone, but we're going to get it done.

"I'm full of confidence. It's not hard to get to the 20. I'm trying to get to the 40 or 50 – not the 20."

WEDNESDAY'S SCHEDULE: The Panthers will wrap up training camp with their final practice Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. before they pack up and head back to Charlotte to begin final preparations for the Dolphins.

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