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Panthers taking care of business

Posted Apr 22, 2014

CHARLOTTE – When members of the media last crossed paths with Panthers center Ryan Kalil, he was serenading left tackle Jordan Gross with his own rendition of "Happy Trails" at Gross' retirement announcement.

Tuesday, two days into the voluntary offseason workouts and after two months of hotly debated roster changes, Kalil was singing a happy tune.

"It's different," Kalil said. "I'm sure the standard answer you're going to hear is that it's a part of the business, and it is. It's true. Jake (Delhomme) being gone was hard. It was weird to see Julius Peppers leave. And now with Steve (Smith), who's a buddy of mine.

"But the cool thing about what's happening right now is that there are a ton of new faces in there, and just in these first couple of days there's this sense of competition that's going to be really healthy for this team."

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Linebacker Luke Kuechly likened his return to Bank of America Stadium to the return to school after summer break, a chance to catch up with friends for the first time in a while. But also like the first day of school, several students of the game have moved in while others have moved on.

"I'm still trying to get names with faces. When I see a new guy, I make sure to introduce myself," Kuechly said. "You also notice the guys that aren't here. Captain Munnerlyn was one that was always talking, so you catch yourself thinking, ‘Where is he?' even though you know he's not here.

"The most difficult thing is that they're all your friends, but everybody realizes it's a business. That's just how it works."

Now Kuechly and his teammates plan to work toward taking care of business.

Long-timers like Gross, Smith and Munnerlyn are gone, as are short-timers who enjoyed significant success last season like safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Ted Ginn. In their place, the Panthers have brought in dependable defenders like former Pro Bowl safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud and rock-solid pass catchers like Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant.

Of the multitude of moves, the decision to release Smith created the biggest splash. But it didn't leave quarterback Cam Newton, coming off a 12-4 season, with a sinking feeling.

"Did it catch me by surprise? Everybody in the Carolinas was surprised," Newton said. "But anything that Coach Ron Rivera says, Mr. (Jerry) Richardson says, Dave Gettleman says…I'm behind it. I'm a quarterback in this organization, the team leader of this organization, so I will not betray what they say. Whatever needs to be done, I'll do.

"This is a team game. We all are cognizant about what has been done this offseason as far as acquisitions and releases, but the fact is, we have our team right now. Am I happy about it? Absolutely. Am I ready to take on the challenge? Absolutely."

It's a mature approach by Newton, a perspective gained over time as Kalil well knows. He admitted to being jarred by major roster moves earlier in his career, but he eventually learned to roll with the punches.

"We've joked that if you can cut Peyton Manning, you can cut any one of us," Kalil said. "Honestly, the norm in the league is guys moving around. You're extremely grateful when you're able to stay in one place, and especially this place. The community is so awesome.

"It's a part of the game, and the sooner you can accept that as the reality, the less surprised you are."

There is another reality, however, that Kalil must still come to terms with: Both the nine-week offseason workout program and the razzing from one of his departing teammates are just beginning.

"Jordan likes to text me what he's doing now while I'm in meetings," Kalil said. "So that's fun, hearing about his golf shots."