Now that Jon Beason is back on the practice field with the Panthers, coach Ron Rivera and his Carolina staff are exploring creative ways to use the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
Beason practiced Monday for the second straight day, a positive sign for the six-year NFL veteran who is coming off microfracture surgery on his right knee and has been limited to only five games the past two seasons.
The Panthers had concerns over how Beason's knee would respond after his first padded practice on Sunday, but Beason said after Monday's practice he "feels good" and didn't experience any swelling in his knee.
If Beason can stay healthy, he'll start at a new position this year — weakside linebacker.
However, when the Panthers go to a nickel defense, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will remain on the field and Beason will come off the field.
But Rivera said he'll look for other ways to use Beason's skill set in certain packages.
"As Jon gets stronger and better and better, we'll have to find a role because other than just being our starting Will (weakside linebacker) — because he's such a dynamic player," Rivera said. "We have to find ways to rotate those three guys (Beason, Kuechly and Davis) and keep those three guys on the field as much as possible."
Rivera suggested the Panthers might use some sets that include three down linemen and three linebackers.
"We've got to really explore the possibilities, especially if he's going to be as productive as he has been in the past," Rivera said of Beason, who led the Panthers in tackles in each of his first four seasons in the league.
Beason said he doesn't particularly care what role he fills.
He said his goal is to "contribute, lead and win some football games."
As for the knee, Beason said it felt fine after two days of practice.
He said other players who have had microfracture knee surgery have told him there's a good chance he'll have good days and bad days and could miss practice time during the season.
"I'm just happy to be back out there," a winded Beason said after running sprints with his position mates following practice. "I don't care about what shape I'm in, what I do right, what I do wrong. I just miss the grind of me and my teammates hanging in the huddle. It's long overdue."
Beason tore his Achilles in the 2012 season opener against Arizona and was placed on injured reserve.
He battled back last season, but struggled with knee and shoulder problems and the Panthers shut him down for the year only four games into the season. At that point the team moved Kuechly to middle linebacker, where he flourished.
Beason underwent surgery to repair knee problems and a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Beason said the shoulder hasn't been a problem, but he's endured some setbacks along the way with the knee.
"The good thing is our staff is really smart about it," Beason said. "I'm trying to get as much work as I can right now and get back into football shape and get my reads down and get used to playing football again."
Rivera is thrilled at the prospect of having veterans Davis and Beason lining up on opposite sides of Kuechly, the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and league's leading tackler in 2013.
"That's pretty exciting," Rivera said.
Rivera said as eager as he is to see his talented trio of linebackers on the field, he'll wait a few days before making a decision on whether Beason will play Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org
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