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Panthers CB Charles Tillman will play cheerleader before deciding his future

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman hasn’t decided if he’ll return for a 14th season after his last three ended with season-ending injuries.

“Right now, my whole goal is rehab,’’ said Tillman, set to undergo ACL surgery to repair his right knee on Wednesday. “Once I’m healthy, then you make that decision.’’

Tillman’s immediate goal is to be there for the Panthers (15-1) as they make a run at the Super Bowl. He was on the practice field last Friday cheering players on. He’ll be there again after the surgery.

The Panthers appreciate Tillman’s presence.

“He’s vocal,’’ cornerback Josh Norman said. “Same Peanut. He hasn’t changed one thing from what he brings to the table.’’

Tillman admitted it’s “extremely tough’’ not being able to participate in the playoffs, beginning with Sunday’s divisional game against two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.

At the same time, he’s excited about being part of something he calls “really special.’’

“The group of men, the character that we have, I’m a part of that,’’ Tillman said. “I know these guys have my back and that they’re going to do everything within their power so that we can continue to keep winning and ultimately win a Super Bowl.’’

Tillman, 34, taught players his patented “Peanut Punch’’ -- a method he uses to force fumbles -- during training camp. The Panthers tied for the league lead with 15 fumble recoveries.

Tillman started opposite Norman for the first 10 games before initially injuring the knee. He returned for the final two regular-season games after corner Bene’ Benwikere was lost for the season to a fractured leg. Tillman left the finale with a torn ACL.

But Tillman still believes he can contribute in the playoffs.

“An extra set of eyes, my personality, my sense of humor,’’ he said. “Coach told me, ‘Cheerleader Tillman.’ Whatever, that’s my job.

“I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can be for this group of young men.’’

Whether he remains a teammate next season depends on his recovery, whether he wants to return and whether the Panthers want him to return.

Carolina got Tillman for a bargain -- a one-year deal with only $350,000 guaranteed -- this season. The bulk of the deal that maxed out at $1.75 million was based on being on the game-day roster, playing time, interceptions and other incentives.

Tillman had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.