CHARLOTTE -- It's not unusual for Tony Booth to show up at Ericsson Stadium before the Carolina Panthers' staff even arrives, and he has no qualms about spending more than eight hours a day on the job.
Imagine what kind of effort the Panthers will get from him once he's healthy again.
Sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery even before he played a game for Carolina, Booth is trying to make the most of his rookie season, spending the year learning and working hard at his rehabilitation.
"I think this is going to help my career in the NFL more than I could have imagined, having to go through this situation and spending so much time just anticipating," he said. "I just can't wait to go back out there."
Most players on injured reserve show up at the stadium to do their rehab work and then leave. Not Booth. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback arrives most days before 8 a.m., sometimes even before members of the training staff.
He spends several hours each day working out, either alone or under the direction of Carolina's trainers. From there, it's out to the practice field with his teammates. NFL rules prohibit players on injured reserve from practicing, but there's nothing that says Booth can't at least watch from the sidelines, talk to the players and coaches, and learn.
NFL rules also ban players on injured reserve from being on the sidelines during games, but Booth joins his teammates in the locker room before the game and then watches home games from the press box. He even drove to away games against Atlanta and Washington -- at his own expense -- to cheer on the Panthers.
Most players on injured reserve find it too emotionally painful to spend so much time around a game they can't play. Booth has a different viewpoint.
"It's simple," he said. "The only thing that can keep me away from this game is death. This is a pivotal point of my life right now. I'm in the league. I'm excited. But there's plenty more work to do."
A seventh-round draft choice after a standout career at James Madison, Booth showed up at Carolina's first minicamp and almost immediately worked his way into the secondary rotation for passing downs. Rave reviews followed, and it was more of the same until Monday morning, Aug. 9, during a drill at training camp.
Reserve offensive guard Michael Nies fell down and rolled into Booth's left leg, awkwardly twisting it. Booth stayed on the ground for several minutes and was driven from the field on a golf cart, and tests later showed complete tears of both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Surgery was performed Sept. 15, and Booth began rehab the next day.
He expects to resume running next month and be recovered for the 2000 season.
In the interim, he's tapping into the knowledge of the team's veterans, including Eric Davis, a cornerback in his 10th NFL season. Wherever Davis goes, Booth usually isn't far behind.
"From the day he showed up, he was constantly asking questions. He still is," Davis said. "He's trying to get better. He's always trying to find a way to learn. That's what you want."
Booth's decision to spend so much time at the stadium shows his true commitment to the game and his teammates, Davis said.
"It's one of those deals where ever since he was a little kid, this is all he ever wanted to do, and now it's here," Davis said. "It's still a game to him, and that's great."
Notes: Wide receiver Patrick Jeffers, sidelined last week with a groin pull, practiced again Thursday, making it appear more likely that he would be available Sunday against Philadelphia, coach George Seifert said. Tailback Tshimanga Biakabutuka probably will miss his second consecutive game with a sprained ankle but possibly could return next week, Seifert said.
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