CHARLOTTE -- Carolina Panthers running back Nick Goings stopped worrying about his head months ago.
What has him excited is how well his legs feel.
The veteran backup/special teamer said Wednesday he's past worrying about the concussions that ended his 2007 season early, instead focusing on better filling the niche he's created for himself.
"Honestly, I've never felt better in my life," Goings said. "After all the stuff that's happened to me, I just took some time to heal and I'm coming after it hard -- harder than I ever have before.
"I'm not taking any moment of it for granted, just enjoying every part of it."
That kind of attitude has defined Goings since he's been a Panther, after making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He's long been a favorite of the coaching staff for his unselfishness and versatility, and he was voted captain last year. The only problem was his season ended after four games when he suffered the third major concussion of his career.
The first was in 2003, the next in the 2005 NFC Championship. Then in September, while returning a kickoff, he was clocked by Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black.
He remembers the hit, but for the next 10 days, he was basically limited to lying on his back in a dark room, bothered by light and sound. He ended up on injured reserve two weeks later, shut down by the same doctors that pulled the plug on a pair of Dan Morgan seasons.
As unusual as it sounds, Goings is trying to follow Morgan's example. He's changed helmets to a nearly impossible-to-find model Morgan shifted to. When the team was looking for options for their oft-injured linebacker (whose 2005 and 2006 seasons were ended because of head injuries), helmet manufacturer Schutt sent Panthers equipment manager Jackie Miles six prototypes of a model called the Fusion, which they planned to make.
They're bigger in the crown, with more padding and an extended jawline, but lighter than standard helmets. The company decided to not produce them, and Miles asked to keep the samples they had already given him.
Now they're down to four, as they've fitted Goings for one.
"As far as I'm concerned, I changed my helmet, got the same style he went to," Goings said. "He didn't have any more problems once he changed over. I'm honestly not really thinking about it. I'm moving on, and that's the only real precaution I'm taking."
Goings also consulted with Pittsburgh concussion specialist Dr. Mickey Collins, the same person Morgan saw before coming back. Those two steps were the key to the comeback, at least for his wife.
"There's no question, with my wife, she wanted to make sure everything was OK, going to the doctors, doing the testing, making sure I was cleared," Goings said. "She felt better about that. She wanted to make sure I was wearing this helmet, because she said she wouldn't watch if I wasn't.
"It puts a lot of things in perspective. I know she worries about things like that, and my family. But it's nothing I worry about. I feel great."
It's hard to say the Panthers were lost without him last year -- so much else went wrong -- but they clearly missed his standing in the locker room. He was one of three captains to go down for the season in the first month (along with Morgan and Jake Delhomme), creating a leadership vacuum that was never really filled.
Filling gaps has always been his strength, whether it was running down kicks, playing fullback or running the ball. His best stretch came in 2004, when pressed for bodies, they gave him the ball and he responded with five 100-yard rushing games in a six-week span.
"Nick is a remarkable guy; he always has been," coach John Fox said. "That hasn't changed. He went through some adversity, no doubt. We missed him and it's good to have him back.
"The first thing that comes to mind is that he's a reliable backup. All of a sudden a guy goes down and you're one play away from being in there. He knows what he's doing, he can do it under pressure. We missed him tremendously on special teams. We missed his abilities out there last year."
This year, they hope they don't have to call on him to play much offense, since they've invested two first-round picks in three years on Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. There's some thought his spot is being challenged by younger backs LaBrandon Toefield or Alex Haynes.
But Goings never has been a sum-of-his-parts guy, which explains why he's been around so long. He said the extra three months off last season has him feeling young again, and you can tell in talking to him he's eager to go.
"I realize this is my eighth season here, and that I'm one of the older guys on the team," he said. "I'm able to play, I'm comfortable here. I know the system here, and I can be a leader for the younger guys and show how it's done and help out teaching.
"I've never felt better, and I'm comfortable with the role here. No question, I've never felt better that at this point, and just focused on improving everything I can to help this team."