CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Less than 10 months after being diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, Carolina Panthers linebacker Mark Fields was back on the field
Monday, practicing at full speed with his teammates.
Fields has been little more than an onlooker during the first two weeks of the team's minicamp. Doctors cleared him for practice, and he began working
in team drills with the staring defense for the first time since the cancer diagnosis ended his 2003 season last August.
"Lance Armstrong said it best when you get a second chance, you're going to go all out,''
Fields said of the five-time Tour de France champion,
who overcame cancer.
"Now it's just a matter of me maintaining and trying to keep it slow until we get to September because we have a long way to go.''
Fields worked along with Sam Mills, the team's linebackers coach, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer last fall. Mills continues to undergo
treatment and also continues to coach. Fields said he expects to practice throughout training camp and promised to be ready for Carolina's Sept. 13
opener against Green Bay.
But Fields and the coaching staff acknowledge he still has a long way to go before returning to top physical shape.
"It was great to see Mark back out there,''
defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac said. "He's a little rusty on some things, but it was good to
see him out there. I think he will be ready to go by the start of camp. His body is so well conditioned that he will be fine. He just has to get all
of that poison out of him.''
After being diagnosed with Hodgkins disease last August, Fields underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Those sessions ended a couple of
months ago, and Fields was allowed to begin running again.
He suited up in a practice jersey for both of the team's minicamps, but sat on the sideline when the practice turned to team drills.
When he finally got on the field Monday, he was greeted by smiles and pats on the back.
"I'm young and I have a chance to play and the season I finished on that is what I want to get back to,''
Fields, who started every game for the Panthers in 2002, recorded perhaps his best season as a pro with a team-high 127 tackles, 7.5 sacks and a
team-record seven forced fumbles. But he missed the season that ended with a last-second Super Bowl loss to New England.
Now he's itching to put the pads on when the Panthers go to Spartanburg, S.C., on July 30 for the start of training camp.
"This is flag football right now,''
Fields said. "I think a lot of guys are ready to take the shorts off and put on the pads. We're looking
forward to training camp. I know I am. The last time I was there I had to leave a little early, so I'm looking for a nice long stay this time.''