CHARLOTTE, N.C. Thomas Davis doesn't know where he'll play for the Carolina Panthers. Mark Fields may help make that decision.
Davis, selected by the Panthers with the 14th overall pick in Saturday's NFL draft, played both safety and linebacker at Georgia. Where he lines up for Carolina may depend on whether Fields returns at linebacker this year.
Fields missed all of the 2003 season while he battled cancer but returned healthy last year and went to the Pro Bowl. Now a free agent, he has postponed signing a new contract, telling the Panthers he wanted to wait until after his annual medical checkup in early May.
"As of today, Mark is not signed with us. We don't know what is going to happen so you just have to proceed as it is right now," general manager Marty Hurney said. "But we selected Thomas Davis because we thought he was an excellent football player. That was the sole reason we selected him.
"We certainly hope we get Mark back and if we do, we'll be in great shape. But if not, we have to prepare for that as well."
Earlier this week, the Panthers signed free agent linebacker Chris Draft in what is also perceived as a precautionary measure.
But with or without Fields, the Panthers believe they got a winner in the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Davis.
"This guy, in our opinion, was the best defensive player available when we picked," said Carolina coach John Fox. "He could be a Derrick Brooks type linebacker or a Roy Williams type of safety.
"The position is the easy part. The fact that we got an excellent defensive player is the hard part."
Davis played safety last season at Georgia and led the Bulldogs in tackles with 81. He also had three sacks, five stops for losses, three forced fumbles and one interception.
Fox said Davis will be happy with whatever position he gets.
"He's a unique guy, he doesn't care where he plays, he just wants to play," Fox said.
Davis said he will come to Carolina willing to learn both positions.
"I am quite sure coach Fox and the staff will put me in the best position for me to help the team," he said by phone from his hometown of Shellman, Ga. "I just really want to play the position the coaches feel I can help the team."
Carolina linebacker Will Witherspoon, who was a senior at Georgia when Davis enrolled, said Davis will excel at either position.
"He's a guy who came there to play linebacker, but they needed him to move to safety, so he moved to safety and you saw what kind of safety he became," Witherspoon said.
But Witherspoon also sounded as if Carolina won't need another linebacker. He said he spoke with Fields at Thursday's memorial service for linebackers coach Sam Mills and got the impression Fields will be on the field next season.
"I think Mark will be back," Witherspoon said. "He's just waiting to clear his final hurdle, his final round of testing. He looks great and feels great. He just wants to get through this last round of testing."
In the second round, the Panthers traded the 45th overall pick to Seattle in exchange for two fourth-round selections. Carolina got the Seahawks' 54th pick in the second round, and the 121st and 126th picks in the fourth round. The Panthers now have three picks in the fourth round.