Carolina Panthers: What Thomas Davis’ Return Means for Their Defense

Year after year, the Carolina Panthers boast one of the NFL’s top defenses. This season, it seems like they get better each and every week.

In Week 5, safety Eric Reid made his Panthers debut after signing with the team on Sept. 27. In Week 6, Carolina gets its defensive leader back.

Luke Kuechly may be the team’s middle linebacker and thus the “quarterback of the defense,” but outside linebacker Thomas Davis is its heart and soul. He has been just that since the Panthers selected him in the opening round of the 2005 NFL draft.

Davis’ numbers speak for themselves. Not only is he the Panthers’ all-time leader with 1,017 tackles, but he also has 28 sacks, 18 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions in his NFL career.

The 35-year-old is also a three-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro and the 2014 recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He is greatly respected not only in his own locker room, but around the NFL.

But as nice a guy as he is off the field, Davis is a tenacious player on it. And he certainly knows a little something about returning after time off, given that he was the first person in professional sports history to return from three torn ACLs on the same knee.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera usually gives his players the day off after a win, but not this past Monday. He knew that Davis would be raring to go once the clock struck midnight to begin the day, so he decided to hold practice in order to get the 14-year pro back on the field.

Everybody was certainly happy to have Davis back, as evidenced by this video where safety Mike Adams and the aforementioned Kuechly welcome him back:

But what does Davis’ return really mean? What impact will he actually have on the Panthers?

A great one, if you ask me. Despite the fact that linebacker is arguably Carolina’s deepest position, the return of a player with Davis’ accolades can only help.

Add in the fact that he’s returning from what he feels was a wrongful suspension, and his impact may be even greater. After all, the supplement that caused Davis to fail a drug test was the same one he had taken for several years. Here is what Davis himself said in a Twitter video announcing his suspension in April:

“I’ve never tested positive for a steroid or HGH. It’s not one of those situations. It ended up being an estrogen blocker that triggered a positive test for me. I just want you guys to know that in no way would I ever do anything, like I said, to cheat this game or to try to create a competitive advantage over anybody.”

For anyone who has really followed Davis’ career, what he said in April was totally believable. He has never cheated the game and has always been an upstanding person. But his suspension bothered him so much that he called off his impending retirement following the 2018 season and vowed that he will play again in 2019.

Like I said, the Panthers have a deep linebacking corps. Even David Mayo, who has been starting in Davis’ place, is a solid player. But David Mayo is no Thomas Davis.

And when you surround a player like Davis with fellow linebackers Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, an already strong Panthers defense becomes even more elite. Here’s what Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said about Davis’ return, via the Associated Press:

“I know he has a lot of built-up aggression in him right now. The Washington Redskins can get ready because I know that first week back when somebody touches the ball he’s going to want to go full throttle.”

Since Davis is the leader of the Panthers’ defense, his aggression is likely to spill over to the rest of the team. And if that’s truly the case then an already reeling Redskins team that was routed by the New Orleans Saints on Monday night may find itself on the wrong end of another beating in Week 6.

Look for Davis to be a man on a mission come Sunday.

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