SPARTANBURG -- For a month last season, Carolina wide receiver Keary Colbert didn't even get a uniform.
When the Panthers play their first preseason game Saturday night, he might not be in the starting lineup, but he's at least in their plans again.
After an injury-plagued 2005 and mysteriously unproductive 2006, Colbert is working with the starters again, and looking forward to re-establishing himself. He caught 47 passes as a rookie starter in 2004, but just five last season.
"I feel like I'm doing good. Having fun and pushing through camp just like everyone else. It's a new year, so I'm excited to do some big things this year. All in all, I feel good."
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That wasn't the case before, as a nagging ankle injury (which he never disclosed at the time) kept him from repeating his rookie success. Last year, he simply fell into the doghouse, and was inactive for four games in November and December.
"It was pretty difficult because of my natural competitive nature," Colbert said of not playing. "I wanted to be out there competing, helping my team to win. It was tough in that sense, but as far as from an organizational standpoint, we were trying to do other things as a team."
Few thought he'd be in this position a few months ago, even though the Panthers cleared a starting job by releasing Keyshawn Johnson. With Dwayne Jarrett coming in the second round of the draft and Drew Carter on the rise (and with the team touting unknowns like Taye Biddle), Colbert looked like he might be the odd man out.
Instead, he's split work with the starters throughout camp with Carter, and has looked like a good player again. He impressed as a rookie because of his ability to master multiple positions, and the shift to a new offense now seems to play to his strengths.
None of this seems to stir Colbert, who's always been one of the most laid-back players in the locker room. When he was asked if he thought he'd be released after last year's demotion, he just shrugged.
"Not really. I don't try to dwell on stuff like that," Colbert said. "They can get rid of anybody at any time they want to. When things like that happen it doesn't bother me, because if they wanted to do something, they could do it at any point to anybody.
"I mean, I'm self-motivated each off-season. I do want to accomplish some things. I guess it somewhat all ties in. But I'm going to go in and work the same way I worked before any of this happened. I'm going to work hard."
• NO DOUBT ABOUT IT: Since quarterback David Carr came here this spring, he's talked about wanting to step back a bit from the beating he took in Houston.
But his old boss said Wednesday he had no question Carr could be a productive starter in the league right now.
Former Houston general manager Charley Casserly, now working as an analyst for CBS, was here for a visit with the player he chose first overall in 2001.
"Probably it might have been in the best interest of him to move on, but I think he could step in and be a starting quarterback today and just roll right through it," Casserly said of Carr. "There weren't any jobs opening up that he was interested in, so he looked at Seattle, looked here, and decided to come here, which was a good move for him.
"But I think he could go in and start for a team right now and play well."
• HEAT WAVE: The Panthers continued to roast, as they're in the middle of the hottest spell they've had to endure in recent years here.
The morning practice was merely oppressive, with a heat index of 96 (figuring in the 70 percent humidity). But it's a good thing they got their heavy work in then, because it was painful for the afternoon session. The heat index hit 114 then, the highest it's been so far.
They took two five-minute breaks in the middle of the morning practice, allowing players to head under a tent to cool off.
"We kind of knew earlier in the week that it was going to be pretty hot all week," coach John Fox said. "It was just really humid this morning. It probably wasn't as hot as it was yesterday, but it was very humid. We took precautions, got them under the tent a little bit and got fluids in them. I think the guys fought through it and did well.
"We really responded. These guys are in great shape. We put them under the tent twice to get them cooled down. Condition-wise isn't the concern. It's just their bodies retaining the fluids and some of the heat sickness they can get. Guys responded really well."
• EXTRA POINTS: The number of players with minor nicks is growing. Linebacker Thomas Davis (back spasms) took the morning off, while Jarrett had the afternoon off after tweaking a hamstring in the morning.
Starting running back DeShaun Foster also took the afternoon off, but that was just to rest. ...
The Panthers added a big back to the roster, signing 6-2, 240-pound Marlion Jackson. He was with Atlanta last year, getting a late call-up from its practice squad. He played at Division II Saginaw Valley State, and spent time in the Arena League before latching on with the Falcons last year.
To make room for him on the roster, the Panthers released extra kicker Andrew Wellock.