Will Carolina’s Thomas Davis play Sunday despite an arm fracture? ‘Without a doubt’
The white bandage stretches along the back of Thomas Davis’ right forearm.
It is the only sign — and a thin one at that — of a broken bone held together by a metal plate and 12 screws.
Davis is less than two weeks removed from surgery — and five days from playing in the Super Bowl.
The veteran linebacker said this week that “without a doubt” he would be in the lineup for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
“I’m in a real good place with it right now,” he said.
The Panthers, seeking their first Super Bowl title, are not surprised by Davis’ resolve to be on the field at Levi’s Stadium.
At age 32, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Davis is improbably enjoying his most productive season. He has 5 1/2 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles — all career bests.
So when Davis suffered a broken arm in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, teammates did not question whether he would play in the biggest game of his 11-year NFL career.
“It’s Thomas,” said Luke Kuechly, who teams with Davis to form one of the league’s best linebacker tandems. “The only way that Thomas is not playing is if you go to his locker and take everything out of it.”
Davis won’t be the first player to start in the Super Bowl while nursing a broken bone. In the 1979 season, Los Angeles Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood famously played several playoff games with a broken leg.
Davis acknowledged “Mr. Youngblood” and others who have played in the sport’s biggest game while injured.
“If it’s something that’s going to be negative or something that’s going to hurt the team — then I would never do it,” he said. “I don’t know what any of those other guys were thinking when they decided to make the decision they did, but I genuinely felt that I could go out and help our team.”
In 2009, the former Georgia star was in his third season as a Panthers starter when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against the New Orleans Saints.
“You’re disappointed as a player,” he said, “but at the same time, you know it’s not the end of the world.”
Less than a year later, during an organized team activity in June, Davis reinjured the ligament.
“I was definitely devastated,” he said, “but … I knew what I had to do to work again.”
Davis was back on the field for the 2011 season, but the ligament was torn again in the second game.
“I thought that my career was over,” he said.
Davis did not doubt that he could do the work to return. He was less certain about team owner Jerry Richardson’s and Coach Ron Rivera’s confidence in his ability to come back and perform effectively.
“I thought, from an organizational standpoint, that they would no longer be willing to stick by me after going through three ACLs,” he said. “But Mr. Richardson told me, ‘Hey, I believe in you.’ And Coach Rivera told me, ‘Hey, I believe in you, and if you’re willing to put yourself through it, we’ll give you that opportunity.’
Davis returned in 2012, the year after the Panthers had selected quarterback Cam Newton with the first pick in the draft, and the same year they chose Kuechly in the first round.
Both evolved into star players for a team that is 17-1 and plays — and celebrates — with youthful spirit.
“I try to do some of the things these young guys are doing so I can blend in,” Davis said, laughing, “So you [reporters] won’t really realize I’ve been playing for 11 years.”
Bart Scott, who played linebacker in the NFL for 11 seasons, marvels at Davis’ resilience.
“Eventually you run out of stuff to graft,” Scott, an analyst for CBS, said of Davis’ knee surgeries. “You run out of hamstring to loan to the knee.
“The fact that not only has he come back but he seems to be playing better than he’s ever played is amazing.”
Davis practiced Monday and, after Tuesday’s day off for the team, practiced again Wednesday. He said trainers were still experimenting with ways to protect his arm during the game.
“It’s going to be something that’s definitely manageable, that’s not going to affect my way of play,” he said.
Broncos players said they did not expect Davis to be hindered.
Running back Ronnie Hillman alluded to a line of biomechanical toys when asked about blocking Davis.
“He might come out there with a Bionicle arm,” Hillman said, chuckling. “You never really know. We have to treat him like the force that he is.”
Tight end Owen Daniels said he assumed Davis “was going to be 100%"
“I’m not going to go easy on his arm and I’m not going to target his arm, either,” Daniels said when asked if he would try to exploit the injury. “That’s just a little bit too much to think about from my side. I’ll be too focused on where he’s going to be and being able to block that guy in general.”
Tackle Ryan Harris also anticipates that Davis will be at full strength.
“If he’s on the field we’re expecting him to be exactly who he is: a great player who helped his team get to the Super Bowl,” the Bronco said.
Davis has no doubt that he can be effective and help a defense that must neutralize Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and stop the running attack.
The broken arm, he said, would not be an issue.
“Who knows if this opportunity is going to come around again?” he said. “So it’s all about taking advantage of the moment right now.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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