CHARLOTTE – A position beset by injuries this preseason got a dose of good news Wednesday with the return of tight end Brandon Williams.
Williams, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list before training camp, returned to the practice field after recovering from surgery on his groin.
"I felt a little rusty, but it feels so good to be back," Williams said. "I felt bad not being able to help my teammates out – they've been getting a lot of extra reps – so it feels good to be back contributing and taking some of the load off them."
The Panthers are without Richie Brockel, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the second preseason game, and lost Jamie Childers for the season to an arm injury suffered in the preseason opener. Carolina signed free agent tight end Dallas Walker on Tuesday.
Williams played in 14 games last season and recorded his first four career catches in addition to appearing on special teams. He said he could be ready for Friday night's preseason game against the New England Patriots.
"I know the offense, and it would be good for me to knock some of the cobwebs off and get back out there," Williams said. "There's a difference between conditioning and being in football shape. I'm in pretty good condition but I don't know about football shape. I'm getting there."
Williams now realizes that he actually was injured in the 2014 regular season finale, but he didn't recognize that it wasn't going to go away on its own until a few weeks before training camp.
"It happened in the last Atlanta game," he said. "I ran down on kickoff and I felt something that didn't feel quite right. I played the next two games and it felt OK, but during the offseason it never really seemed to get better.
"In OTAs it wasn't quite right, so finally I realized something was wrong."
Williams can now get back to improving his game – and he's certainly made a bigger comeback than this one before. Back problems appeared to end his football career in 2010, but Williams gave the game another shot and signed with the Panthers as a free agent in 2013.
"The hardest part about being hurt is actually the mental aspect, just watching your guys out there and not being able to be out there with them," Williams said. "It's been tough, so I'm glad to be back."