Davis held out of practice by Panthers

Updated: November 5, 2003, 4:42 PM ET
Associated Press

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

Stephen Davis

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.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press