After the Panthers wrapped up minicamp last month in Charlotte, veteran linebacker Thomas Davis made it very clear he hoped to play beyond the 2018 season.
In the five weeks since, Davis has taken some time off, vacationed with his family and played in at least one charity golf tournament.
And while Davis’ stance hasn’t changed, he sounded realistic Thursday when discussing what could be his final training camp in a long, remarkable career.
Some 35-year-olds might dread the idea of leaving their wife and kids and moving into a dorm room for three weeks.
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Not Davis. Not this year.
“I’m going into Spartanburg and totally embracing this whole experience with this potentially being my last time going down to Spartanburg. It’s just going to be one of those bittersweet things,” Davis said.
“But as a football team we’ve got to remain focused on the task at hand, and that’s going down there, getting better and coming together as a football team.”
Davis has endured a lot during a 14-year career, not the least of which were the three ACL surgeries on his right knee.
But he’s never been in the situation he finds himself in this summer — headed to camp facing a four-game suspension and uncertain whether Wofford will be the first in a long list of last experiences this season.
“I’m definitely going into it with a very different mindset,” Davis said. “Because when you think about my situation and going into this season and this potentially being my last season based on whatever happens moving forward.”
Davis was speaking to reporters at The Ballantyne resort before the 16th annual HoopTee celebrity golf tournament hosted by Hornets president Fred Whitfield.
Davis was a little under the weather Thursday, but said he otherwise feels good physically. The Panthers’ first-round pick from 2005 is eligible to practice when the team converges on Wofford next week, but he’ll be prohibited from being at Bank of America Stadium for four weeks once the season starts after violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
“Obviously you guys know my situation,” Davis said after warming up on the driving range. “So this is going to be my opportunity to be around my teammates and really bond and really get that sense of (camaraderie) that you build during training camp. We’re going to have a good time with it.”
Davis’ future became a topic of discussion after he told an NFL Network reporter in January that 2018 would likely be his last year.
Davis, whose contract expires after this season, then hinted during an April video announcing his suspension that he might want to play a little longer — an idea he reinforced in June by saying he was “very open” to playing beyond this season.
The question is how open new owner David Tepper and the team’s front office and coaching staff would be to re-signing Davis to a contract extension.
Davis hasn’t yet broached the topic with Tepper or general manager Marty Hurney, saying: “We haven’t had those conversations.”
The play of Shaq Thompson during Davis’ four-game suspension figures to factor heavily in whether this will be Davis’ final season with the Panthers. Thompson, a first-round pick in 2015, has flashed his potential at different points during his first three seasons, but has not had the chance to be an every-down linebacker.
Davis has remained productive late in his career, which he attributes in part to having less wear and tear on his body due to the parts of three seasons he missed following his knee surgeries from 2009-2011.
Davis, the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, finished second on the team with 88 tackles in 2017 while earning his third consecutive Pro Bowl berth.
Former Panthers offensive lineman Frank Garcia says if Davis has slowed down, it’s been most evident when trying to cover backs and tight ends. But Garcia, who hosts a sports-talk show on WFNZ, says Davis remains effective.
“He might lose his speed in coverage. But his loss of speed is still — if it was a 10, it’s an 8, which is better than most guys. And it’s a lot better than a 6, which most times you’re going to see with average players,” Garcia said at the HoopTee event.
“He brings so much to the table, even as far as just being on the team, a leader, a (veteran) guy in the locker room,” Garcia added.
“I’d pay him to do that. I don’t know if I’d pay him the amount of money he wants, but I’d pay him to do that.”