Thomas Davis will play Sunday, starting at his usual linebacker spot for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 despite a broken forearm. But that's not what team head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion thought when he stepped on the field during the NFC title game.
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He walked over to Davis and asked him the obvious question, one with an answer he knew: "Did you break your arm?"
"Yeah, it's broken," Davis said.
Vermillion looked over to assistant trainer Mark Shermansky, seemingly resigned to the reality.
"I remember saying to Mark, 'I cannot believe this guy's season is going to end right now,'" Vermillion told NFL.com this week. "We were going to win the game, you could tell the way it was going. But I could not believe this guy -- what he's been through -- that it's going to end right now."
The veteran Davis, who has battled back from three ACL tears, wasn't quite done yet. He headed back to the locker room vowing to play in Sunday's game vs. the Broncos. Meanwhile, team doctor Patrick Connor talked with his trainers, telling them, "Guys, we can fix this and see if he can come back."
"First off, to be able to do what he's doing takes a special guy," Vermillion said. "Not everyone can do what he's doing. He's not going to go through what he's gone through and not get this opportunity."
After undergoing surgery on Jan. 25, the Panthers' training staff knew for sure. They saw how the repair went, how Thomas' body reacted, and they were immediately confident. They worked with him on ridding his arm of the swelling, getting his strength back, and getting him back to practice.
Still, how well will he play? There were positive signs all week. Davis practiced in full, going through all of the drills. He'll wear a pad over his arm, but not a cast.
"He's got a plate about six-inches long, that'll be in there forever," said Vermillion, who added that there is no offseason, additional surgery scheduled for Davis. "It's fixed. He's got an internal cast. It's not like we got to cast his arm."
Two weeks after he suffered the injury, it's safe to say the Panthers are as confident their leader will play as he always does.
"He's got great grip strength," Vermillion said. "He's got great grip strength, he can use his wrist, he can use his elbow, those are some of the challenges he's not going to have, which is real important. The biggest challenge for him right now is, what's it going to feel like to take a blow on it. What's it going to feel like to wrap up and pull somebody towards him? Those are the biggest challenges. The nice thing is, wrist motion is going to be there, elbow motion is going to be there, and his grip is there."
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