Thomas: Davis is done; Gardner gone

For the second year in a row, Stephen Davis will end the season on the IR. Davis experienced significant swelling in his right knee during the last week, the same knee he had microfracture surgery on nearly a year ago. There has been no announcement on the prospect of Davis having more surgery on the knee.

The swelling just expedited the inevitable. Davis wasn't effective all season as a runner. Sure, he plunged for 12 rushing touchdowns this year, but anyone that watched the Panthers this season knows that those were one-yard plunges that virtually any back on the roster could have made. He wasn't quick enough to hit the holes, often running into the backs of the offensive linemen as the holes closed.

Officially, Davis ran the ball 180 times for a total of of 549 yards, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Realistically, Davis wasn't even that good, often being tackled in the backfield constantly and showing hardly any burst on any of his runs.

Fans would grumble and groan whenever Davis entered the game, for they knew the team was destined to gain little yardage.

It's likely that we've seen the final days of Davis as a Panther. Davis is due a million dollar roster bonus in March, and carries a salary cap number of $3.8 million in 2006. The team will save $2.5 million if (or when) Davis is released after the season.

Davis' leadership on the field and in the locker room will be missed. He always carried himself as a true professional while in Carolina, and was a guy the younger players could look up to. It's a shame that his final carry as a Panther probably was a play where he failed to pick up a first down on 4th and 2. Davis deserved better than that.

4th year RB Deshaun Foster will be the starter for the remainder of the year, if he can stay healthy. Nick Goings should be the secondary back in the offense, and could be auditioning for the starting position in '06. With Davis probably being released in the offseason and Foster being an unrestricted Free Agent, the Panthers would have Goings and 2nd round pick Eric Shelton vying for the primary role if Foster is not re-signed. Goings filled in admirably last season as the primary back, and could reprise that role again if called upon.

The Panthers haven't filled the roster spot yet, but it's speculated that WR Efrem Hill will be elevated to the practice squad to fill the hole left by the team waiving WR Rod Gardner on Friday. Hill is a young player that has a lot of potential, and with little WR depth going into 2006, the Panthers need to find out if Hill has what it takes when it counts.

Gardner's release came a bit unexpectedly. The Panthers gave up a 2006 sixth round pick to get him from the Redskins during training camp for insurance at WR. Gardner never did crack the top 3, and was slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Panthers decided to see what second-year WR Drew Carter had instead. Carter possesses great height and speed, but is still raw as a receiver. He could be the #3 WR going into 2006.

Why was Gardner released? Did he not like being so far down on the depth chart? Did he lose focus because of a lack of playing time? Did he never learn the playbook, like some of the coaches and players have suggested? I don't think we'll ever know the real reason. Fans hope that the team hasn't made a mistake by releasing a player of his caliber so late in the season when they are still in playoff contention. It would have been nice to be able to count on a former 1,000 yard receiver than a guy who has never caught a pass in the NFL.

Stephen, Rod, you'll be missed. How much? We'll find out soon.

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