Originally created 05/03/04

Fields continues recovery, eyes return for Panthers



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers linebacker Mark Fields has completed his treatment for Hodgkin's Disease and said he hopes to return to football practice next month.

Fields, who missed all of last season, attended the weekend's rookie minicamp but did not participate in any of the team drills. He's scheduled to have several tests May 14 and is optimistic he'll be cleared to begin practicing.

"Everything has come along real well," Fields said. "The doctors are happy. The coaches are happy. They are kind of just working me back in there slowly."

Fields looks much like he did before being diagnosed with cancer last summer near the end of training camp. He weighs 245 pounds, his normal playing weight, and his physique remains chiseled.

The return to the field can't come soon enough for Fields, who led the Panthers with 127 tackles and forced a team-record seven fumbles in 2002.

After watching his teammates play in the Super Bowl without him, Fields, 33, is eager to prove he still has the speed and the ability to regain his position as the team's starting strongside linebacker.

"The guys will probably be mad at me at training camp because I feel like we can stay out there all day practicing," he said. "We can go all day long, until whenever. I probably won't want to leave the field."

Fields wasn't always sure he'd feel that way.

While lying in his hospital bed with tubes sticking out of arm last August after being diagnosed with the disease, Fields wasn't sure if he'd make it back. But he had plenty of support from Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, coach John Fox, his teammates, fans and other Hodgkin's survivors.

One survivor in particular was extremely helpful to Fields - former NFL player Merrill Hoge. Like Fields, Hoge was diagnosed with the disease during his playing career, but returned to play a few more years.

Fox put Fields in touch with Hoge and a friendship developed between the two athletes.

"I've been talking with Merrill through this whole situation," Fields said. "I was a guy that wanted to get right in there after the first chemo treatment and start working out.

"But Merrill sat me down and talked to me and said, 'Listen, you really don't have to do that because your body is fighting so many other things. The more you sit back and rest the better off you'll be in the long run.' It's hard to listen to that, but in actuality it's starting to happen."

Fields' biggest asset on the football field has always been his speed.

Before last season, he was recognized as one of the fastest linebackers in the entire league, having been clocked regularly in the 4.3s in the 40s. It's whether Fields has that speed when he returns that may determine how successful his comeback will be.

Although he hasn't been timed for speed yet, Fields is confident the speed will return.

The Panthers are confident Fields has the determination to make it back, but they signed free agents Jessie Armstead and Brandon Short to improve depth at linebacker. As of now, though, Fields is penciled in as the starter.

"Mark is such a high-energy guy that he is very uplifting to everybody, coaching staff and his teammates," Fox said. "So I think it is very important that he is out here."