SPARTANBURG -- One of the more intriguing competitions in the Carolina Panthers training camp was going to be the fight for the weakside linebacker job between incumbent Na'il Diggs and first-round pick Jon Beason.
Even though the rookie hasn't arrived, Diggs said he still feels like he needs to fight, because many view him as merely a place-holder until Beason's ready.
"I just go out and compete hard as if he was there," Diggs said when asked about Beason's holdout. "It's a ghost. Right now, that's what it is. I'm really competing against a ghost. What I've got to do is keep making plays on the field, because when the ghost becomes a reality, then it'll be a real person."
Of course, the Panthers have a different view than most of Diggs. He came here for the league minimum a year ago, but then re-signed on a one-year, $1.35 million contract in March. The Panthers have had a revolving door at one of the outside linebacker slots since coach John Fox came here in 2002 -- Greg Favors, Mark Fields, Brandon Short and Hannibal Navies have short-timed it -- and when Beason shows up it's possibly just a matter of time before he starts.
But while Diggs isn't going to make any Pro Bowls, he can be a more than just some guy, and he played well enough late last year to earn a real contract (which included a $400,000 signing bonus). He had three straight years of 100-plus tackles in Green Bay before injuries slowed him and led him here. In fact, a preseason knee injury last year had coaches wondering about his future here, but he stuck around and became a steady contributor the second half of the year.
"I feel great health-wise," Diggs said Sunday. "I'm a lot better mentally as far as coming in and knowing the scheme, knowing players, coaches, knowing where I need to be. It's always easier the second time around."
Still, he knows the smooth road won't last long, unless Beason's absence is a long one.
"I'm going out there just playing football; whether he was here or not, I wouldn't do anything different than I did if he was here," he said. "To me, I feel like he's part of the team. Part of me has to look at it as competition, of course, but another part of me says a part of the family's not here, part of the team that at some point is going to be here.
"He's not getting all the experiences the other rookies are. As far as him being on that same learning curve, he's probably going to be a little behind. You've always got to respect your competition, and I do that. I just go out there and do the same things I would if he was here."
• ONE STEP AT A TIME: Second-year tight end Jeff King has recently moved into the starting lineup, but was talking Sunday morning about the potential for other jobs in the organization.
King said the ultimate job for him would be a general manager for either a professional football or baseball team. While his baseball experience is limited to his fantasy team, he talked about his love of breaking down tape in his current occupation.
"I love watching film and evaluating how good someone is, that would be fun," King said. "You don't have to come to work and hate doing it. Any GM job for me would be fun. I grew up being a huge baseball fan, so being a baseball GM would be fun. It's kind of a far out goal, a far out reach at this point. But I enjoy watching the draft. I enjoy the combine when I went."
• EXTRA POINTS: The Beason holdout continues, as the first-round pick has yet to agree to a contract. There are a number of indications that the impasse could last a while. ... The Panthers had their first one-practice day of the new schedule, and while everyone's getting used to the switch from two-a-days, Fox said the early reviews are favorable.
"They're still kind of learning the routine; but I think what they've learned, they've liked," he said of his players.
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