Carolina Panthers

'Doubtful Dan' eases back into competition

Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan listens to linebackers coach Ken Flajole.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan listens to linebackers coach Ken Flajole.

SPARTANBURG -- The long wait for Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan ends Friday, which means the breath-holding will begin.

Morgan said Monday he expected to play about a quarter or maybe a little longer during Friday's preseason game against New England, his first action since his 2006 season ended in the opener because of repeated concussions.

Morgan was cleared by an outside specialist in December, but the Panthers have eased him into the process. He sat out the first two games, but has gradually taken more of the work in practice that involves contact.

He started doing all the team drills last week, and in recent days began doing 9-on-7 drills, where they work on the run game and the hits are as close as you get to full tackling without hitting the ground.

"I've been pretty much involved in everything practice-wise for the last week and half or so," Morgan said. "The last thing I wasn't doing was 9-on-7, and I've been doing that this week, so it's really been no different as far as practicing.

"(As far as) not playing in the preseason games ... they're preseason games. Would I like to play? Yeah. But I'm not over there banging my head wanting to get in there. I'm probably going to get a quarter or more this week, so I'm excited to get back out there."

The third game is typically the closest to regular-season conditions, with starters generally playing into the third quarter. Morgan said he wasn't sure if he'd play in the preseason finale the following week against Pittsburgh, but felt it was important to get into a game soon to make sure he was back in football shape before the season-opener Sept. 9 at St. Louis.

"Me and coach Fox talked about that, and I did want to get back out there," he said. "Just to get more game feel under my belt before I go into the St. Louis game.

"Do I feel like I could go out there without playing a preseason game in St. Louis? Yeah. But I'd like to get out there to get that feel back, get that game feel back."

The Panthers have been cautious with Morgan for good reason. By his count, he's suffered five concussions -- all since joining the Panthers in 2001 -- and there's a real possibility his next one could be a career-ender. But he said early in camp that he's not worried each day when he goes out that something might happen, as that would take away from the reckless style -- which has him in this predicament.

He's missed 40 of a possible 96 games since joining the Panthers as their first-round pick in 2001. Fifteen of those games were last year, as his problems were nagging but less serious.

He missed only three games in 2005 with ankle and shoulder problems, appearing to be clear of the concussions and related symptoms that dogged him through 2003 and 2004, when he missed seven games because of head injuries and dizziness.

Morgan's using a new helmet which features extra padding. The one he's wearing was a prototype from the manufacturer Schutt, which sent equipment manager Jackie Miles six samples for testing earlier this year. When the company decided to not manufacture them, Miles asked to keep the helmets because Morgan liked them. He's also wearing a new mouthpiece, but he's tried everything in recent years to protect himself, including having teeth pulled.

• Notebook, daily digest • 4C

• Who: New England (0-2) at Panthers (1-1)

• When: 8 p.m. Friday

• Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte

• TV: CBS (cable channel 5 in Rock Hill)

• Radio: WBT (1110 AM)