CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Jake Delhomme couldn't get through simple tasks such as washing his face and brushing his teeth without shooting pain in his right elbow. When he went to bed, he had to make sure to keep his arm straight so he could sleep.
Cortisone shots were a relief during the season, and the Carolina Panthers quarterback knew it was getting worse.
Now, less than a year after he felt his elbow pop after completing a short pass, a pain-free Delhomme and his new elbow returned to the field for Saturday's preseason opener.
"I have no apprehension at all," insisted Delhomme, who underwent months of grueling rehabilitation following ligament-replacement surgery. "I don't know if I'm being naive, but I don't feel that way."
The carefree attitude stems from the smooth recovery after doctors removed the shredded ligament in the elbow of his throwing arm and replaced it with a tendon from his left thigh.
After getting a bone spur removed and a muscle tear repaired, Delhomme rested the elbow for three months. He started throwing a Nerf ball in February, then graduated to a heavier ball and finally a regulation ball.
He slowly increased the number of throws and the distance, but the team remained cautious. Delhomme only threw on the side during May's minicamp.
Delhomme practiced in team drills during optional workouts in June, and was cleared for training camp. While he's been limited to one practice a day, many teammates have said his arm appears stronger than ever.
"I have done a bunch of interviews and they are like, 'Were you nervous to throw the ball or let it loose?' And I was like, 'No, because I've had no setbacks,' " Delhomme said. "I didn't try to rush it.
"When we started throwing, nobody was around. It wasn't like it was April and guys are working out or May and we have minicamp. ... I didn't have to push it because nobody was there. So that worked in my favor."
Delhomme thinks his body was telling him something early last season. Despite his quick start -- eight touchdown passes and one interception -- the pain wouldn't go away.
While Delhomme said the elbow first started hurting during his Pro Bowl season in 2005, something was different leading up to the game against Atlanta in late-September.
"It always hurt to practice, but it just didn't feel right," Delhomme said.
"I remember vividly talking to my wife on a Friday afternoon ... and she asked how was practice and how is the arm? I said it was miserable this week. I don't know. It was just miserable this week. Your body just tells you sometimes."
Delhomme feels the key hit occurred when Falcons defensive end John Abraham tried to rip the ball away from him. Delhomme finished the series, throwing a touchdown pass to Jeff King.
But on the next possession, Delhomme's elbow popped after throwing a short pass over the middle to fullback Brad Hoover.
Now pain-free, the 33-year-old, always excitable Delhomme has appeared even more energetic at training camp this summer.
"I think most players I've seen, as you get older, you realize your years might be numbered," tackle Jordan Gross said. "I'm not saying Jake is done anytime soon, but I think he knows he's comfortable here. He's enjoying it, his elbow feels good and he's definitely having a lot of fun."