Panthers linebacker Jon Beason has heard the talk throughout the offseason.
Coming off three surgeries in a 17-month span, Beason is broken down, used up, finished, according to some fans and critics.
Beason, who turned 28 in January, doesnt agree with the reports of his early demise. But he gets it.
As fans, you understand that its all about the experience. They want to go to the game. They want to see a great product. They want their team to win, and win Super Bowls. Thats it. I understand that. Thats what you hope to deliver, Beason said. When you do get hurt, you get a chance to sit back and watch how nothing changes.
What Beason meant is that when Player X gets hurt, the team plugs in Player Y and keeps going.
In the Panthers case, Player Y turned out to be The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and the league leader in tackles.
Now Luke Kuechly has Beasons former spot at middle linebacker.
Beason, speaking at the launch of his charitable foundation Tuesday at the Palm restaurant, said he is open to playing outside linebacker, is recovering well from knee and shoulder surgeries and expects to return to his pre-injury form.
Ill be better, Beason said. I cant even fathom not being better than I previously was. Especially, when you get to this stage of your career, mentally the advantage is through the roof. You know how to prepare, and those are the things that youre focusing on more.
It should be noted that Beason made the same statement last offseason when he was coming back from a torn Achilles that ended his 2011 season in Week 1. Beason has played in just five games since signing a five-year, $51.5 million contract extension in 2011 that made him the NFLs highest-paid middle linebacker.
He underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee last October, and had his left labrum repaired in January. Beason will be limited in organized team activities if he participates at all. His goal is to be ready for the start of training camp in July.
Beason said hes been busting my butt in the training room, and characterized his shoulder surgery as insignificant.
As a linebacker, we always talk, we dont care about wings. We talk about the wheels, he said. We dont want to blow a tire out.
But Beason has blown out both tires the past two seasons. Being on the other side of the curtain, relegated to whirlpools and physical therapy, has given Beason more of an appreciation of the fleeting nature of his craft.
You realize that your times limited and you should make the best of it, Beason said. Even the tough times and situations like this.
Beason, who went to three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2008-2010, was admittedly miffed when the Panthers used the ninth pick in last years draft to take another middle linebacker. He made it clear he wasnt interested in giving up his spot to a rookie, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera started Beason in the middle the first four games.
Only when Beason was sidelined did Kuechly move to the middle. Both Kuechly and the entire defense played better.
He can help you win a championship, and thats really what its about, Beason said. For me, sitting back and watching, OK, this kid is exceptional. Hes an unbelievable talent. Why not be out there with him?
Beason said he would likely play the weak side, where Thomas Davis started the final 12 games last season after returning from three ACL surgeries. Beason said Davis would shift to the strong side, which requires more coverage responsibilities in the Panthers 4-3 scheme a skill set the Panthers believe better suits Davis, who played safety at Georgia.
Beason, who had the Panthers three highest single-season tackle totals before James Anderson and Kuechly passed him, said playing the weak side will give him the freedom to run down ball-carriers and blitz.
But until he does it in a game, he knows there will be doubters.
Im fine with it, he said, because its another way to make the story that much better.