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Return of special-teams ace Colin Jones big for Panthers

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was surprise when Colin Jones walked onto the practice field with a helmet and shoulder pads on Tuesday.

Twenty-four hours earlier, coach Ron Rivera said Jones was scheduled to see a specialist about a groin injury that kept him out of the last two preseason games.

He expressed concern that this was going to be something that could keep the safety/nickelback/special-teams ace out indefinitely. There was speculation it could be season ending.

But there Jones was, prepping for Thursday’s preseason finale as though nothing was wrong.

“Basically what the doctors said was it’s not bad, and however he needed to be treated they treated him and sent him on his way,” Rivera said. “And then he worked out and looked really good. I’ll talk to [head trainer Ryan Vermillion] and see how it went.

“But Colin seemed to have a nice, big smile on his face.”

Rivera was smiling as well. Jones was one of the surprises last season, playing the nickel spot well first when Bene’ Benwikere was injured and later when Benwikere moved to the every-down corner spot.

Jones also is a key special-teams player. In 2013, he tied for the team lead with 10 special-teams tackles. He had 11 in 2012 after being acquired from San Francisco for a 2014 seventh-round draft pick.

He also can play safety, so the Panthers don’t have to keep an extra player on the roster at that position. He's one of the fastest players on the team as well.

He’s basically a three-for-one deal.

“Colin Jones has been a big part of what we’ve done,’’ Rivera said. “Last year he showed that he’s a very versatile football player.

“To have a guy like that back here, that’s great. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do moving forward.’’