Sports

Panthers positive out of bye week

CHARLOTTE - Surely, one weekend without a game can't be a cure-all for the Carolina Panthers early-season woes. Or can it?

Players returned to Bank of America Stadium for meetings Monday after a three-day break and talked like a new season was under way as if their 0-3 record didn't exist.

"When you get away from it for a minute, (you) kind of refocus and see this can be the start of the season for us right now," said middle linebacker Jon Beason.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme said the team came back so refreshed and loose he could "feel it in the air."

If that sounds like a team in denial, fullback Brad Hoover said the Panthers are taking the only sensible approach - fixing their gaze ahead and not looking back.

"Right now, I think in everyone's mind on this team, that's the way it has to be approached," he said.

One thing very different about this Monday from most others is players were not nursing aches and pains from a game the previous day.

"The body feels pretty good," said Delhomme. "Guys aren't walking around all kind of beat up like a normal week."

Instead, the Panthers should take the field against Washington Sunday healthier than they have been all season.

Strong safety Chris Harris, who missed the first three games with a knee injury, is expected to make his first start of the season, though that was a point of friendly locker-room debate Monday.

Outside linebacker Thomas Davis said he was "definitely confident" Harris and outside linebacker Na'il Diggs, who missed the last game at Dallas with bruised ribs, would be back in action against the Redskins.

Upon hearing that, Harris let out a big smile and retreated into the kind of conservative talk about injuries that coach John Fox prefers.

"It's still day to day," Harris said, borrowing an oft-used Fox line. "I can't tell you yeah and I won't tell you no. We'll see."

Assuming Davis is correct and Harris returns, the benefit will be multi-faced for the Panthers. Harris is the quarterback of the defensive secondary and his leadership has been missed. His return would mean free safety Charles Godfrey wouldn't have to focus on making the secondary calls and would free up Quinton Teal to resume a full-time role on special teams, which is much-needed.

"I would love to get out there and make sure we're all lined up right and working as one, liked a greased-up machine working well," said Harris.

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