CHARLOTTE – After navigating what he called "very tough" decisions in free agency and the pre-draft process, head coach Ron Rivera's wide smile as he stepped onto the practice field said it all.
"It feels very good to be coaching again," Rivera said after the team's first rookie minicamp practice.
First and foremost, Rivera and his coaching staff get a chance to see their draft picks and undrafted free agents perform in their system during this two-day camp.
"We're hoping to see exactly where our draft picks and our PFAs (priority free agents) fit," Rivera said. "We want to see that these guys can pick up what we're doing and pick it up quickly.
"Our job is to coach these guys up and get them into position to perform at the highest possible level for us to win football games."
Beyond the draft choices and undrafted free agents, there are the welcomed surprises – the tryout players that make an impression. Rivera said he hoped to pick up "a couple" tryouts when the minicamp concludes.
"There are some young guys that we invited here and some of them caught our eye," Rivera said. "Some of the guys running routes looked very good to us. I'm really impressed with some of the linebackers we brought in and some of the defensive backs.
"It's a good group of young people we've brought out and given them an opportunity to show us what they can do."
Rivera was asked to name specific tryout players that garnered his attention in the first practice, but alas, 35 new names can be difficult to remember.
"I took notes, but I am not quite sure who everybody is yet," Rivera joked. "I'll try to marry the numbers with the video that we did tape.
"There are a lot of new names and numbers."
Indeed there are – not just at rookie camp, but on the projected depth chart.
And Rivera will be counting on several young players to help ensure the Panthers take another step forward in 2014.
"This team can be as talented (as last year's)," Rivera said. "A lot of these young men have to develop."