Injuries force Panthers to move top pick

Updated: August 15, 2005, 7:45 PM ET
Associated Press

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers moved first-round draft pick Thomas Davis from safety to linebacker on Monday because of depth concerns following an injury to Brandon Short.

Short injured his foot in Saturday night's preseason game against Washington, and the Panthers aren't sure how long he'll be out. Chris Draft, who has backed up Short at strongside linebacker, has had a handful of asthma attacks that have limited him in training camp.

That prompted the Panthers to move Davis, who played safety at Georgia, out of the secondary.

"If I'm on the field, that's all that matters to me," Davis said. "It really doesn't matter to me if it's at deep snapper. If I can get on the field and play, I want to do that."

Even though Davis gained experience at linebacker while attending Georgia, he played most of his collegiate career at safety and the Panthers had hoped to keep him in the secondary. They had already shuffled the lineup to accommodate him, moving Mike Minter from his longtime hold at strong safety to free safety. Colin Branch, who played at free safety last year, was then moved to the strongside and given the opportunity to battle Davis for the starting spot.

Now that Davis is at linebacker -- maybe for good -- the Panthers are considering again adjusting the secondary.

"Our safeties are interchangeable and it's not that big of a deal," defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac said. "I haven't finished talking to Mike and Colin. We don't have to make that decision today and we haven't made it yet."

Trgovac called his safeties in for a meeting Monday morning and asked both of them where they preferred to play. Even though Minter has seemingly taken to his move to free safety, he said both he and Branch deferred to the coaching staff.

"Wherever the team needs me, that's where I'm going to be and be happy to play at either one," Minter said. "I feel I can play either and be effective. Whatever they call me to do, I'll be ready to do it."

Minter said he had hoped Branch had a clear choice that would have made the decision easier.

"I asked him and he said it doesn't matter to him," Minter said. "I thought he was going to say either one and then I could say the other. But he was like, `It doesn't matter.' So we'll just leave it up to the coaches and see what they do."

It's also possible that Davis could be moved back to safety, although it appears that decision would be based on how long Short is out. Panthers coach John Fox shied away from the specifics of Short's injury, saying only that the linebacker was day to day.

Short later said he injured the plantar fascia on his left foot and didn't know how long he would be sidelined. He did, however, feel confident he would be back in time for the Sept. 11 season opener.

He downplayed any concerns he might have about losing his starting job to Davis, instead praising the rookie for giving Carolina options.

"He's a tremendous athlete, with his speed and his tackling ability," Short said. "To have someone like him who is multidimensional that you can plug in at two different positions, that's great for the team."

But Davis now has a lot to do to learn his new position with just three preseason games remaining before the season opener.

Minter said Davis will have his work cut out for him to catch up.

"It's going to be tough -- he's been playing safety, and safety was tough for him," Minter said. "Now, moving him up, it's tougher to learn. He's got about three weeks to figure it out before the opening game. But my thing is, he's a football player. If he knows where to line up, he can go make plays."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press