CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The long hours of rehabilitation, the purchase of an electrotherapy machine and all the time cooped up in his hyperbaric chamber seem to have paid off.
Thomas Davis has his speed back.
Not six months after the Carolina Panthers' weakside linebacker underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Davis recently was clocked running the 40-yard dash in a stunning 4.47 seconds.
"We've got guys out here right now that have been healthy at skill positions that still can't run a 4.4," Davis said with pride this week. "So I think that says a lot for the recovery and the hard work that I've put in."
Davis, 27, is sitting out team drills during the Panthers' optional workouts this month, but he insists it's only because the training staff is being overly cautious. After his best season as a pro was derailed in November, Davis is somehow already healthy again.
"He's worked really hard. I think he's probably ahead of schedule," Panthers coach John Fox said. "We'll definitely take it slow with him, though, to make sure he's ready to go. But he's out there working with the guys. He's in great shape."
Davis, the 14th pick in the 2005 draft, was in the middle of a solid, if unspectacular, career with Carolina when Ron Meeks took over as defensive coordinator last year.
Meeks' Cover-2 system depends on the weakside linebacker to make many of the tackles. That player is supposed to be fast, athletic and constantly swarming the ball.
Davis immediately thrived, collecting a team record-tying 18 tackles in the season opener. He had 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions in seven games and was in line for perhaps for his first Pro Bowl berth when his season came to an abrupt end.
Backpedaling into coverage in New Orleans on Nov. 8, Davis planted his leg without anyone around him and his knee buckled.
In three agonizing weeks before the surgery, Davis worried if he'd ever be the same.
"That was my biggest concern," Davis said. "Am I going to be as fast as I was before I got hurt?"
Not long after the Nov. 30 surgery, Davis began a grueling, five-day-a-week schedule of work with his leg. But it didn't stop there. Davis bought a fancy electrotherapy machine and regularly hooked himself up to it to help speed the process.
Then when he heard Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's dramatic recovery from an ankle injury to play in the Super Bowl included time in a hyperbaric chamber -- a device that forces more oxygen into the bloodstream -- Davis dragged out his old unit and did the same.
Getting stronger by the spring, Davis started some work in Carolina's offseason conditioning program. Last month, he followed some of his teammates out for a running session.
"I wasn't even going to run the 40," Davis insisted. "But when I came back out here, everybody else was running, me wanting to compete, I got out here. First one, I ran a 4.49. Then, just to make sure it was legit, I did it again -- and ran a 4.47. I think that's a pretty legit time. I was pretty excited about it. I didn't expect that to happen."
Davis, who said his best 40 time was 4.42 seconds last year, likely won't participate in team drills until training camp begins. It will mark the beginning of an important season for Davis, whose contract situation is uncertain.
A victim of the new rules because there's no salary cap in 2010, Davis was a restricted free agent this offseason despite his five years of NFL service. The Panthers, apparently unwilling to sign players long-term with labor uncertainty looming, offered him a one-year tender worth $3.268 million.
The experience hasn't swayed Davis, who said before the surgery that he wanted to finish his career in Carolina.
"That feeling hasn't changed. I still feel like Carolina is where I want to be," Davis said. "The management side of it, it's a business and they've got to handle what they've got to handle. At the end of the day, hopefully I can finish my career here. If it doesn't happen, I just appreciate everything the Panthers have done for me."
Davis and his knee are ready.
"I didn't know how my body would respond to the surgery or how I would recover," Davis said. "I just knew I was going to give it everything I had and rehab so I could get back out here with these guys. It's been a great turnaround for me."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press