What kind of focus and intensity was seen this year in OTAs/minicamp? Does it seem like the team wants a return trip to the Super Bowl? – Todd in Spartanburg, S.C.
The Panthers, as common sense would suggest, don't want to merely return to the Super Bowl. They want to win it one year after falling short in the ultimate game.
How bad do they want it? The offseason workout program provided a hint.
"They're eager. They're anxious. They're excited about the opportunity and challenge," head coach Ron Rivera said after the final practice prior to training camp concluded last week. "We're a very prideful bunch. Accomplishing what we did (last year) was great, but the ultimate goal wasn't completed, and I think that more so than anything else drives us."
That drive was evident throughout 12 practices over the final month of the offseason program. Quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Thomas Davis steered the intensity with their unique brand of Panther-on-Panther trash talk, but Rivera was the one in the driver's seat. He huddled the team in the middle of the first minicamp practice last week to demand more from them, something he also did earlier during organized team activities.
"It starts with Coach and what he always talk about, that you don't start from where the season ended. You start from the bottom and work your way back up," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "That's been his approach since he's been here. Guys have really bought into that."
The Panthers could have showed up for the offseason program, noted how most of a team that went 15-1 is back, and collectively decided they could wait to really get down to business come the preseason. That may be the approach some NFL teams in the same situation have taken in the past. That also may partially explain why none of the last 22 Super Bowls have featured the team that lost the previous Super Bowl.
"Nobody wants to be complacent, but it happens," said Rivera, who has researched how Super Bowl runners-up of the past handled things the next year in hopes of avoiding the same fate. "It's my job, it's our coaches' job and it's our players' job to hold each other accountable and not accept being complacent. We have to do that."
Rivera did all he could, and the players followed suit. Tight end Greg Olsen set the tone on the first day of offseason workouts, passionately speaking about the important of bringing maximum effort every day. He reiterated the message when workouts wound down after eight productive weeks.
"You don't just show up in this league and win," Olsen said. "If we think it's just going to happen, we'll find ourselves 0-5 saying, 'What's going on?'
"There's a lot that goes into it, and you better understand that."
There's little doubt that teams in the past that failed to repeat their success took similar measures to avoid a letdown, and sometimes there's really no way to put your finger on why. It happens the other way, too: Who could have figured, for example, that Carolina would lead the NFL in scoring last season after losing top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a knee injury before the season started?
In that same vein, Carolina's offensive personnel could be caught taking a cruise control approach, figuring that returning everyone including Benjamin assures the unit of success in 2016. But this team has a history of not falling into such traps, and in the unpredictable NFL, that's really all fans can ask for.
"We've got to come back ready to roll," Rivera said. "The season is right around the corner."
View photos from Thursday's mandatory practice.