Originally created 10/26/01

Jeffers might finally get back on the field this week



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Patrick Jeffers hopes to return to the field for the first time in 14 months when the Panthers play host the New York Jets on Sunday.

Jeffers, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during in a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last summer, said he's been told by the coaching staff that he'll be activated Sunday for the first time this season.

"They said it looks like I'll be up, so I'm preparing like I will be," Jeffers said. "I'm excited. It's another step along the way."

Panthers head coach George Seifert said it is probable Jeffers would be active this week, but said "it's not etched in stone." Seifert said Jeffers' situation could depend on the status of rookie receiver and return man Steve Smith, who has a sore knee.

On Wednesday, Seifert said there was a less than 50 percent chance that Smith would play, but he showed significant improvement Thursday.

If Smith does play, then there's a chance the coaching staff might change its mind and leave Jeffers inactive this week.

Even if Jeffers plays, he's expected to see limited action against the Jets, working in four-receiver sets and some three-receiver sets. As of right now, Muhsin Muhammad and Donald Hayes are the starters, while Isaac Byrd is the third receiver.

Jeffers had a career year in 1999, finishing with 1,002 yards despite starting just eight games. He tied a team record that year with 12 touchdown passes.

He was rewarded with a four-year, $11.2 million contract after that season before injuring his knee last August. He underwent surgery on both knees and has battled swelling throughout the summer and the early part of this season.

"I don't think I'm back to where I was in '99, but I don't think I'm that far off," Jeffers said. "The biggest hurdle will be getting into the game on Sunday and having to play at that (game) speed and at that level."

Jeffers said he believes he can get back to where he was in 1999.

"Yeah, it's a long battle and long climb," Jeffers said. "I won't be able to just get on the field and run around like I used to. It takes a lot of warming up to get ready, but once I get going I think I can get back to where I was."