Davis returns with ability and leadership

Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) reacts in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium Dec 17.Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington: "Just excited to have him back and he's excited to be here."

The Carolina Panthers welcomed back Thomas Davis this week from his four-game NFL suspension that started at the beginning of the season.

He'll be put to use right away as a starter in Sunday afternoon's road game against the Washington Redskins.

"Our leader is back," linebacker Shaq Thompson said.

That's quite an assessment for a linebacking corps that features Luke Kuechly.

But Davis has been praised for his leadership abilities. He was greeted upon his return to the stadium with quite a bit of fanfare. Head coach Ron Rivera even wore a T-shirt marking the occasion at the beginning of the week.

Rivera said Davis' ability to make an impact off the field with many of the younger players is one of the key aspects for his role on the team.

There was speculation the past couple of years that Davis, 35, might be ready for retirement, but he has shrugged that off when it came time to make a decision. He has started in 146 regular-season games in the NFL.

"The leadership and energy and just the explosive plays he can make," Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington said. "The experience is huge. ... Just excited to have him back and he's excited to be here."

Now it's time to see if his production remains up to standards.

While Davis will be in a starting role, Rivera said it would be prudent to limit the number of snaps he's on the field while he works his way back into a full-time playing role.

David Mayo has filled in as the starter in Davis' absence. He didn't record a tackle in the game against the New York Giants on Sunday.

But Mayo has been tested with quite a few opportunities the past couple of seasons because of injuries at the linebacker spot. The Panthers view the experience he has gained as invaluable in building depth.

With Davis' return, the Panthers could have up to seven past Pro Bowl players on the field with their defense.

Davis might not be the only returning veteran to the Carolina lineup this week. A less certain situation involves tight end Greg Olsen, who suffered a broken bone in his foot.

Olsen has made rather rapid progress since that season-opening injury Sept. 9. He'll be at practice this week and could be available for Sunday's game depending on how those sessions go.

Despite it being mid-October, this is only the second road game for Carolina. The Panthers suffered their only loss in the other one with a setback at Atlanta.

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 7-6. The Panthers have won five in a row in the series, including two of them on the road under head coach Ron Rivera.