CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Not much went right for Ken Lucas last season.
The cornerback had trouble tackling because of an injured shoulder, and things got so bad that he was briefly taken out of the Carolina Panthers' starting lineup.
But what bothers him the most is that some questioned his toughness.
``I even had teammates question if I had quit on the team,'' Lucas said Thursday. ``That's just crazy for someone to suggest that. I love this game, and I would do this for free if I had to.''
Lucas wouldn't identify the players, but said the criticism hurt.
``I would never fake an injury just because things are not going my way,'' he said.
After undergoing surgery in January, Lucas has returned to the field this week for the Panthers' coaching sessions, prepared to prove his critics - and perhaps his teammates - wrong.
``I'm not one of those guys who will try to make an excuse for why I'm not playing well,'' Lucas said. ``The coaches knew I had shoulder and neck issues. But I never came to the media and said I had neck problems.
``Unfortunately, it did affect my game from the mental aspect. There were a lot of times I knew I had to make a tackle, but my mind was telling me I didn't want to, because I knew it was going to hurt like hell to make this tackle. But we tried to fix that this offseason and hopefully it'll be much better this year.''
While Lucas is back, a teammate was missing for a second straight day. Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins has been a no-show for the optional workouts. His agent said it has nothing to do with the fact he was on the trading block before the draft, or that he wants a new contract, but he's still the only regular not participating.
Defensive end Mike Rucker and tackle Travelle Wharton are on hand, even though they're still recovering from knee injuries. And Lucas, after sitting out minicamp a month ago, has worked his way back to the field.
``When you're coming off an 8-8 season, obviously our team was disappointed about that,'' coach John Fox said. ``It kind of brings you back with new resolve.''
Lucas said last year's struggles motivated him to test the shoulder this week.
``I kind of fell on it today and felt a little pain in it, but I'm comfortable enough to go out here and practice,'' Lucas said. ``I feel like we have a great opportunity to have a good team out here this year, and I'm just trying to be a part of it.''
Lucas said he first injured the shoulder in 2005, his first year with Carolina after leaving Seattle to sign a six-year, $36 million free-agent deal. Lucas had six interceptions in 2005 and narrowly missed making the Pro Bowl.
But Lucas had only three picks last year and struggled to bring receivers to the turf. Lucas also had to battle through groin and hamstring injuries last year, which he said were due in part by favoring his shoulder.
Lucas expects to keep his starting spot this year, opposite either incumbent Chris Gamble or Richard Marshall.
``For people to be saying I've lost it as far as tackling ate at me a whole lot,'' Lucas said. ``I wanted to fix it. So my motivation is to prove everybody wrong this year.''

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