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CHARLOTTE – For players, coaches and fans, the anticipation for the start of training camp never seems to fade.

"There's always that first day excitement. And there is always that unknown – just how good can we be?" head coach Ron Rivera said. "I always felt that as a player or a coach. It's a new start, a new beginning and you look forward to it."

The Panthers will report to training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. on Thursday. The first practice will take place at 6:15 on Friday night at Gibbs Stadium.

Fans are invited to celebrate the start of training camp at the team's "Back To Football Kickoff Party". It will be held at the Gibbs Stadium Plaza from 4:30-6:15 p.m. and following practice from 8:30-9 p.m. Festivities include live entertainment from the band Grand Strand, performances by the TopCats, Sir Purr and PurrCussion, Mayor's Ball Run delivery, face painting, food and more. Admission is free.

Carolina's second practice will take place on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and will feature Play 60 Family Fun Day. Activities include the Play 60 Kids Combine, appearances by the TopCats and Sir Purr, face painting and more from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

The Panthers have position battles to settle and difficult roster decisions to make, and fans will get a first look at the competition.

And the competition is particularly heated for two position groups: wide receivers and defensive backs.

"I've seen the competition and I'm really pleased by it, because it has already made a lot of our guys better," Rivera said. "And we do have a lot of very competitive battles."

The long-awaited padded practices will further raise the level of intensity, and it will give the rookies – especially those in the trenches – a true taste of professional football.

"One thing you try to do as coaches is not fall in love with guys during OTAs and minicamp, because they don't have pads on," Rivera said. "The truth of the matter is, when the pads come on, what happens? Do they step up another notch? I've seen it happen before where guys have great minicamps and OTAs and then slump because they're not used to the physicality of the pads."

As the team-building continues for the players, the same process will be underway for the coaches as they spend long nights planning for the start of the season.

Rivera has seven assistant coaches who are new to the team or in elevated roles from a season ago.

So much like the players, Rivera and his staff will be seeking to further develop chemistry on the field and in their Wofford offices.

"Very much so. There has to be a rapport developed," Rivera said. "I've been very pleased with how it has gone so far. I really like the attitude our staff has had."

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