Panthers' Davis hands off job
Foster will be starting running back against Bucs
Posted: Thursday December 8, 2005 4:21PM; Updated: Thursday December 8, 2005 4:21PM
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- It wasn't exactly a concession speech, nor was it an official changing of the guard. But a proud running back stepped aside Thursday, admitting his understudy was the best man for the job.

Stephen Davis has vacated his throne as the centerpiece of the Carolina Panthers' offense, gracefully handing it over to DeShaun Foster. Although no official word came down from coach John Fox, Davis said Foster should be the starting running back Sunday when the Panthers host Tampa Bay.

"I'm pretty sure that's going to happen," Davis said. "I've just got to stay positive about the whole situation and I'm happy for him. He deserves the opportunity to start."

Davis is still officially listed as the starter on the depth chart, but that's been a mere formality the past three weeks. Davis has just 16 carries for 39 yards, while Foster has been given the ball 54 times for 246 yards.

So when Foster had a breakout game against Atlanta last week, running for 131 yards and a touchdown, Davis was finally ready to accept the inevitable.

And he did it without any hesitation.

"I'm a professional football player, and I'm going to be a professional about it," Davis said. "Number one, it's a guy I really care about ... all the other stuff don't matter. I just want him to go out there and be great."

The Panthers are in a unique situation with two star running backs who support each other no matter who has the ball. Two years ago it was Davis, who ran for a career-best 1,444 yards while Foster eagerly waited in the wings.

Both of them spent most of last year injured -- Davis had major knee surgery, while Foster had a broken collarbone -- but when they returned, Davis instantly reclaimed his starting job.

Foster never complained, even when it became clear that Davis wasn't the same bruising back that bowled over defenses for nine seasons with Washington and Carolina.

But with Carolina fighting for the NFC South title, Fox had to even out the carries. Only Foster has thrived, making it impossible for the Panthers not to make him the workhorse of the offense.

Davis acknowledges its difficult to stand on the sidelines. But he's not lying when he says he finds joy in watching Foster succeed. He proved it last week after Foster's first touchdown, sprinting across the field to celebrate with him.

"I've seen go from being hurt to being where he is today," Davis said. "It's a guy that really appreciates what he's learned from me and I've learned from him as a person, not only as a football player.

"You want him to go out there and succeed."

Davis learned to be gracious from his early years in Washington under Terry Allen, who mentored him much the same way he's done with Foster. Allen was at the prime of his career when Davis entered the league, and Davis remembered jealously watching Allen play confident he could do the job.

"He let me know that you never know what could happen, and you've just got to be ready," Davis said. "When he came off the field, he let me know why he did certain things. It really helped me out not only as a player but as a person.

"When there's a guy in there getting the job done, you've got to be happy for him. You don't want to be out there like 'I wish I was in there.' "

It's unclear what will happen next with Davis, who has two years left on his contract but at 31 years old, is over the hill in running back years. Foster, meanwhile, is just 25 and in the final year of his deal with the Panthers.

If Foster continues his march toward an every-down back, the Panthers will have to cough up some cash to keep him in Carolina.

As difficult as it must have been for Davis to admit, he said he'd be willing to renegotiate his deal to take a pay cut and stay in Carolina in a lesser role.

"If I've got to do something like lower my salary or something to keep him on the team, and I stay on the team and help the team win ... I'm going to do it," he said. "I'm not going to be a guy that my pride is so much that I'm not going to do that."

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PSSST- HE WAS ON MY FANTASY TEAM!!! Still a class act