<
>

Davis held out of practice by Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Stephen Davis limped his way into
Carolina Panthers practice Wednesday while Kevin Dyson practically
skipped out to the field.

Davis was held out of practice with a suddenly sore ankle the
same day Dyson made his first appearance after tearing his
Achilles' tendon in the spring.

Davis, the NFC's leading rusher with 992 yards, is questionable
for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp was certain Davis' ankle would
be healed in time to play in the rematch of Carolina's 12-9
overtime victory in which Davis ran for 142 yards.

"That's just enough to get you through Wednesday and Thursday
without being killed on the practice field," Sapp said. "We're
dying to see Stephen."

But the Panthers were highly guarded about Davis' injury, which
mysteriously appeared over the past few days.

"It's something that got a little sore on him probably Tuesday
morning, and he came in and got treatment all day," coach John Fox
said. "It had not been bothering him before that."

Fox said he researched the league rules Wednesday morning and
learned he didn't have to reveal which ankle was bothering Davis,
so he didn't. And Davis received treatment on it during the time he
usually meets with the media, bolstering the secrecy.

Davis has been the central player in Carolina's 6-2 start this
season, carrying the ball close to 30 times a game and passing the
100-yard mark six times this season.

The Panthers have a solid backup in second-year running back
DeShaun Foster, who ran for 85 yards and added 54 yards receiving
while filling in for Davis in the second half of Carolina's win
over Indianapolis.

Foster spent Wednesday preparing as if he'll be the starter
Sunday.

Meanwhile, Carolina has three weeks to decide if Dyson will play
this year.

Signed during the offseason to become the Panthers' top
receiving threat, Dyson tore his Achilles' tendon in spring drills
and was expected to be out for the year. But his recovery has been
faster than expected and he bounded into the stadium Wednesday
eager to get some work in.

"I was here at 6:30 this morning," Dyson said. "I was like a
little kid on the night before Christmas last night. I couldn't
sleep, I was just so excited to get out here and practice for the
first time in a year."

Dyson missed the final month of last season with Tennessee after
severely damaging his hamstring, and was hoping to make a comeback
in Carolina. He said he thought he could have returned several
weeks ago, but the decision was up to the Panthers' medical staff,
which has been slow in bringing him along.

But finally cleared, Dyson said he went through a full practice.

"I did a lot more than I think people would have expected me to
for my first day back," he said.

Asked if he thought he could play against Tampa Bay, Dyson
didn't hesitate. Fox was a little more guarded, but wouldn't rule
it out.

"Never say never," Fox said. "He hadn't been playing a long
time, so it's going to take a lot of time to get him ready. But
he's coming along good."

The Panthers could use Dyson to bolster their receiving corps.

Steve Smith leads the team in catches (43) and yards receiving
(573), but has irritated management several times -- most recently
last Sunday with a costly personal foul for kicking a Houston
player late in the loss to the Texans.

And Muhsin Muhammad has faded into a blocker with just 18
catches for 252 yards and many notable drops.