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Off surgery, Foster practices with Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 31, 2006) -- DeShaun Foster opened Carolina's minicamp May 31 on the practice field, showing no ill effects from the broken ankle that knocked him out of the playoffs last season.

He also declared himself fit to be the Panthers' starting running back.

"I've been looking forward to it for a while, and now it's finally here," Foster said. "So I am going to try to make the best of it."

That's going to require staying healthy for the first time in his NFL career.

Foster has waited patiently since 2002 for his turn to be Carolina's starter, and has been stymied by injuries all along the way. He blew out his knee during a preseason game his rookie year, and with his comeback uncertain, the Panthers brought in Stephen Davis the next season.

That made Foster a backup in 2003, and he missed two games with a broken hand. Davis had knee problems in 2004, but Foster's chance to start was cut short when he broke his collarbone and missed 12 games.

Last year, when it became clear that Davis' best years were behind him, the Panthers made Foster their No. 1 guy. He led the team in rushing with 879 yards and hit his stride in the playoffs.

But like all of his seasons, it ended with an injury when he broke his right ankle in Carolina's divisional playoff win against the Chicago Bears. He watched the Panthers lose to Seattle in the NFC championship from the sideline.

Despite his history of injuries, the Panthers released Davis and gave Foster a three-year, $15 million contract during the offseason. Foster knows there are people who believe it was a very big gamble.

"Nobody wants to be labeled as injury prone, but it happens," Foster said. "I'm going to play my game and do what I can do. I'm going to stay positive and work hard and try to make it through the season."

Asked what he can do to stay healthy, Foster said there was only one thing left for him to try: "I guess I need to drink more milk -- at least that's what my Mom says."

The Panthers used their first-round pick to draft running back DeAngelo Williams as insurance. He joins Nick Goings and Jamal Robertson as backups to Foster and gives them a little more depth.

But based on his first day on the field, Foster feels good.

He participated in individual drills and took handoffs from quarterback Jake Delhomme. His ankle, which was surgically repaired with six pins and a plate, didn't bother him at all.

Panthers coach John Fox has high hopes for Foster this season.

"In his career we have had situations where he has had to be the guy," Fox said. "Last season, I don't think we advance to where we did without him stepping up in a big way and producing at a high level.

"This will be the first time coming into the season he will be the featured guy. He's definitely capable. We just have to kill off that injury bug."

The Panthers are holding four weeks of "voluntary" workouts, but attendance is usually perfect. However, Keyshawn Johnson was a no-show, but Fox said the receiver was attending to a personal matter and would be in camp June 2. Defensive tackle Kindal Morehead was the only player to not practice.

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