Panthers' Thomas Davis driven by snubs

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis registered a career-high 123 tackles last season. AP Photo/Gary Wiepert

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Practice was getting heated on Saturday and Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis was getting noticeably more vocal.

"Y'all's ass ain't in the end zone yet,'' Davis screamed as the defense made a stop inside the 5-yard line.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had heard this intensity before.

"You could just tell at a certain point in practice he had flipped a switch,'' he said. "That gives me goose bumps. You just know. There are no words to describe it.

"You know, hey, the pit bull is off the chain at that point."

Davis has been off the chain for the past two seasons. As the first NFL player to successfully return from ACL surgery on the same knee (right), he had a career-best 123 tackles.

He expects to be better this season.

First, there's the knee brace. It's gone. Davis feels faster and more agile, claiming he can make cuts to the ball better and more efficiently.

Then there's the chip. Davis has a big one. It began when he lost the 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and continued this offseason when he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl.

He also lost several other awards for his foundation work, which led him to tweet on July 7:


McDermott -- as well as head coach Ron Rivera -- would like to see Davis wear the brace as a precaution. The chip they want him to keep.

"I hope he does,'' McDermott said. "Thomas, that's how he's wired. You talk about being the best; he's driven to be the best. I love the guy. I love how he's wired. He's a warrior.''

No worries about losing the chip. Davis doesn't hesitate to admit being shunned for the Pro Bowl motivates him.

"I feel like there were a lot of things I could have been a part of after the season was over,'' he said. "For that to happen, I have to work a little harder. That's what I use as motivation.''

Davis' problem isn't performance. It's the criteria used to select Pro Bowlers at outside linebacker. Much of it is based on sacks.

Of the seven players selected this past season, only San Francisco's Ahmad Brooks with 8.5 sacks had fewer than 10. The average was 11.6. Davis had four.

When it comes to tackles, those players averaged 53.5 -- less than half of Davis' total.

Davis isn't asked to rush the passer like Indianapolis' Robert Mathis, who led the league with 19.5 sacks. The Panthers rely on their defensive line, particularly ends Greg Hardy (15) and Charles Johnson (11), for that.

They rely on Davis to make tackles and drop into coverage. He also tied a career-best with two interceptions, one less than the seven selected to the Pro Bowl had combined.

"If you rush the passer 60 percent of the time you should be considered a defensive end,'' Davis said. "That's just my opinion, but ... If you look at their tackle numbers, it's way down. Not even close. And tackling is a big part of playing defense.''

That's one area Davis believes he can improve. It might be nitpicking, but he counted 14 he missed last season. For a perfectionist, as the former Georgia star is, that's not good enough.

"To me, he's one of the best linebackers in the league,'' McDermott said of the 14th player selected in the 2005 draft. "Quite honestly, he doesn't get the recognition he deserves outside of Charlotte.''

Davis often gets overshadowed nationally by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But he doesn't look at it that way.

And at 31, he's coming into his prime, at least when you consider he's only about 28 in football years because of time missed with the injuries.

Davis also is unselfish. In February, he restructured his contract for the third time in four years because of injury or to help give the team salary-cap relief. He'd rather retire than play anywhere else because of the way the Panthers stood behind him when he was hurt.

That also drives him.

"Had the team told me we're going in a different direction or we don't feel like your knees can hold up, I could be done playing the game,'' Davis said. "That's enough motivation for me to continue to go out and compete at a high level and never take anything for granted.''

That was noticeable Saturday.