Scott Fowler

Panthers LB Thomas Davis: Team ‘in a really good place’

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis (58) discussed former teammate Greg Hardy on Monday, saying he hopes it doesn’t work out for Hardy in Dallas, and that the Panthers face the Cowboys while Hardy is suspended under the NFL’s domestic violence policy.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis (58) discussed former teammate Greg Hardy on Monday, saying he hopes it doesn’t work out for Hardy in Dallas, and that the Panthers face the Cowboys while Hardy is suspended under the NFL’s domestic violence policy. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Among the many things I like about Thomas Davis is that he goes ahead and says what other people are thinking.

At age 32 – after undergoing three ACL surgeries on the same knee, winning the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year award and enjoying a career that has spanned exactly half of the Carolina Panthers’ 20 years of football – Davis figures there is no need to pussyfoot around anything.

So when I asked him during a press conference Monday about how his old teammate Greg Hardy would do in Dallas, Davis replied honestly.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “I don’t really care either. I hope he’s not that good and it doesn’t really work out for Dallas.”

You might think from that quote that Davis is ripping his old teammate, who only played a single game for Carolina last season after a district judge found him guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. The misdemeanor charges were dismissed on appeal in February when prosecutors couldn’t find the ex-girlfriend, who reportedly reached a financial settlement with Hardy.

But Davis wasn’t really ripping Hardy. He just considers Dallas a rival, wants to beat the Cowboys when the two teams play this fall and was speaking from the heart.

Davis went on to say: “I know Hardy, and I know what kind of player he is. He’s going to go in and he’s going to work his butt off. He’s definitely going to make that defense better. No one really knows what the league’s going to do suspension-wise. But I hope we play them early in the season and we don’t have to face him” because of Hardy’s likely impending suspension.

As for whether the Panthers can both win the NFC South and make the playoffs for the third straight time in 2015, the half-dozen players Carolina made available to talk to the media on the first day of voluntary offseason workouts were all optimistic.

But only Davis flatly declared: “I’m looking forward to starting this three-peat thing.”

Before the Panthers’ home playoff game against Arizona last season, Davis was the only player on the active roster who had won a playoff game with Carolina (in the 2005 postseason). Now there are dozens of Panthers who can say they have done that.

But the player they call “T.D.” has still never reached a Super Bowl, much less won one. He is under contract only through 2015 with Carolina, at a base salary of $7.25 million. Both the Panthers and Davis have both said they would like to extend the deal, and to do so would certainly help Carolina’s salary cap – Davis counts $9.9 million against that this season.

The Panthers are in the rare position of having the past two Man of the Year Award winners on their roster. The award recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence. Both players should be a major part of the defense. Of 2013 winner Charles “Peanut” Tillman, a cornerback known for his turnover-causing prowess, Davis said: “I feel he’s that piece that we’ve been missing to take us over the top.”

Last year at this time the Panthers had a different feel, as Davis noted. Coming off a 12-4 season, they had lost a number of key players in the offseason and weren’t sure where they were headed.

“It’s a lot different than the year before when we lost a lot of our guys and we’re walking around here feeling bad about what happened,” Davis said. “Losing Smitty (Steve Smith), (Brandon) LaFell, Captain (Munnerlyn) and the list goes on. Just to know that we have our guys back (is good). We’re going to compete for that same goal that we were striving for last year, and that’s to win a Super Bowl. I think we’re in a really good place.”

Davis was second on the team in tackles last season to middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, and No. 58 said he feels as good as ever. He knows he is at the point, though, where every extensive interview includes the “When will you retire?” question.

Davis answered that question like this Monday by saying he would play “until my body tells me I can’t play anymore. And it ain’t talking to me. So I’m going to keep going.”

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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