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 SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -Na'il Diggs feels as though he's contending with the supernatural as he seeks to keep his starting job with the Carolina Panthers.
First-round pick Jon Beason was expected to take Diggs' spot at outside linebacker. But with Beason unsigned and holding out, Diggs worked with the first team for the second straight day Sunday.
``It's a ghost. Right now, that's what it is. I'm really competing against a ghost,'' Diggs said. ``What I've got to do is keep making plays on the field, because when the ghost becomes a reality, then it'll be a real person.''
That doesn't mean the eight-year veteran is enjoying Beason's disappearing act.
``Part of me has to look at it as competition, of course, but another part of me says a part of the family's not here,'' Diggs said. ``I do wish he was here getting the experience and learning with us, so he could be just as ready as we all are.''
There was little change in Beason's status Sunday. His agent, Michael Huyghue, said in an e-mail that there were no breakthroughs in contract talks, but Beason was working out on his own to stay in shape.
The longer Beason is out, the better chance Diggs has of keeping his job and erasing memories of last season, when he failed to make the impact Carolina had hoped after signing him away from Green Bay.
Diggs, who once started 62 straight games for the Packers, sprained his knee in the third preseason game. It was a major concern because Diggs sprained the medial collateral ligaments in each knee on separate occasions a year earlier, limiting him to nine games.
Coach John Fox said Sunday the Panthers considered cutting Diggs before the final roster was selected.
``It was a tough call at the cut-down date because he wasn't even going to be ready until the regular season started rolling,'' Fox said.
Diggs made the team and was inactive for the season-opening loss to Atlanta. He returned in Week 2 and eventually moved into the starting lineup. He finished with 68 tackles - 55 fewer than his best season in Green Bay - and made few memorable plays.
Diggs said his knees feel fine now and he's more comfortable entering his second season with the Panthers.
``I'm a lot better mentally as far as coming in and knowing the scheme, knowing players, coaches, knowing where I need to be,'' Diggs said. ``It's always easier the second time around.''
Fox won't discuss Beason's holdout, but a lengthy absence would put the rookie well behind in learning the system.
``I hardly remember my rookie year,'' the 29-year-old Diggs joked. ``But I know that it was pretty tough just being there every day. Not being there and not getting to know my guys that I'm going to go to battle with, the learning material itself, I would imagine it would set me back.''
Diggs acknowledged feeling concerned when Carolina took Beason with the 25th pick. Still, he believes he'll get a chance to keep his starting job and has vowed to ignore analysts who say he's simply a placeholder until the rookie arrives.
``If you read what everybody tells you, you're just going to crush yourself, your whole self-meaning and confidence and everything else,'' Diggs said. ``I don't listen to anything or read anything.''

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