Thomas Davis is Panthers' Man of the Year nominee

jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 19, 2012 

Linebacker Thomas Davis is the Panthers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, given annually to recognize an NFL player for his work on and off the field.

Davis, also in the running for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award, began the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation in 2007. The foundation distributes more than $50,000 in aid to underprivileged children and families each year.

“To receive award on this team, you have to be voted on by your teammates, and it’s definitely a huge honor,” Davis, in his season year, said. “I think they recognize all the work we do in the community with my foundation, and this is not the reason we do it. We do it because we want to make a difference and impact the lives of the children we’re working with.”

Davis returned this season after a third anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his right knee. He has gone from a part-time player early in the season to full-time weakside linebacker.

Head coach Ron Rivera got choked up talking about giving Davis the game ball after Carolina’s 30-22 victory over Atlanta two weeks ago. Rivera also played alongside Payton with the Bears in the 1980s.

“Walter was a very generous and giving person in the community in Chicago,” Rivera said. “ To me it has some significance and some special meaning. And for a player like Thomas Davis to be nominated means just as much because of what he does in this community here in Charlotte, the very unselfish approach that he has to the people in this community and to the team.”

The winner will be selected from the 32 team nominees and announced at the Super Bowl in early February.

INJURY UPDATE: The Panthers practiced without seven players on Wednesday, including six starters. Davis and offensive tackle Jordan Gross got a day off. Center Geoff Hangartner (foot), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (toe), running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle), defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (wrist) and reserve offensive lineman Thomas Austin (illness) were also out.

Edwards took walk-through reps and put his chances of playing Sunday against Oakland at 75 percent. He said Wednesday’s practice was the best he’s had since severing a tendon in his wrist.

Rivera said Stewart worked out Tuesday but rested Wednesday because of soreness.

BYERS READY: Should Hangartner be unable to go Sunday, Rivera said Jeff Byers performed well enough against the Chargers to start.

Byers helped anchor an offensive line that allowed two sacks on quarterback Cam Newton, and Newton praised the reserve center for his ability to make the right protection calls.

“So much is put on his plate, and for a person to step right in and play starting center in this league, especially with this philosophy that we have on the offensive side of the ball, it’s a lot on a person,” Newton said.

Byers said if Hangartner is ready to go on Saturday, he should start.

FIRST LOOK: The Panthers signed Hayworth Hicks on Tuesday after putting guard Zack Williams on the injured reserve with a torn ACL. Hicks, an undrafted free agent out of Iowa State, was most recently with Tampa Bay.

“He’s a stout, physical offensive lineman. Good size. Very powerful at the point of attack,” Rivera said. “He kept slipping a little bit and I think that had a lot to do with his shoes but when he was able to anchor and really get a good base, you could see his power.”

OAKLAND TIME: Oakland’s visit to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday will be the Raiders’ fifth time to the Eastern Time Zone this season.

The Raiders are 0-4 in those games (Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore and Cincinnati), and 4-10 overall. By the end of the season, Oakland will have flown a league-high 28,962 miles, enough to take them around the globe and then some.

The Raiders will get to Charlotte on Friday night.

“It’s obviously a challenge I think, especially playing the early game, which is 10 a.m. out here on the West Coast,” Oakland head coach Dennis Allen said. “It’s one of those challenges that you face and this just happens to be one of those years.”

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