Normally quiet Davis stresses game's import

Updated: October 6, 2004, 6:19 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The injury report lists Stephen Davis as questionable to play against Denver. His behavior Wednesday made him look more like a probable.

The first sign came in the morning meetings.

"He's ready to go," center Jeff Mitchell said. "He's been awake in all the meetings."

The next sign came halfway through practice, when Davis surprised Carolina's offensive linemen by pulling them together to talk about Sunday's game in Denver.

"He said he wanted us to know the importance of this game, and that he really wants to come back and have a solid performance," said left tackle Jordan Gross.

Just how out of character was that for the typically subdued running back?

"He didn't do that all of last year," Gross said. "He's really a quiet guy, and for him to come out and say we need to get going -- it really got me excited for this game."

Davis hasn't played since the season-opening loss to Green Bay because he had arthroscopic surgery Sept. 17 to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.

Although Carolina is secure with backup DeShaun Foster, having both backs healthy gives them a 1-2 punch that the Panthers hope will jump-start their stagnant running game.

"When you have one back, which we had with DeShaun, and you really want to put the ball in his hands, it takes away from some of the things you can do offensively," Gross said. "Now when we have Stephen in there and DeShaun to back him up, we're going to be able to be a lot more aggressive with play calling.

"Having both of them, you can use the whole playbook."

The Panthers (1-2) need to do something to get their offense rolling, particularly the ground game.

A year after averaging 130 yards a game, Carolina is managing just 96 this season.

The Panthers have gone over 100 yards just once, when Foster ran for 174 against Kansas City's porous defense. They gained just 38 yards in a loss to Green Bay, and 67 in a loss to Atlanta.

Davis, who ran for a franchise-best 1,444 yards last season, has just nine carries for 26 yards this year. Foster has 237 yards rushing.

Coach John Fox said Davis' status depends on how his knee reacts after the workout.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press