SPARTANBURG, S.C. – After investing their first two draft picks on defensive tackles, the Panthers can't wait to see how rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short perform in their first NFL game Friday night against the Chicago Bears.
The size of the investment isn't as great in the case of defensive tackle Colin Cole, but the Panthers are just as excited if signing the veteran will pay dividends.
"I'm pretty excited about him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's got an opportunity to come back, and he's a big, stout physical guy that you have a place for, but we'll really see as we start playing games."
Cole last saw action in the 2010 playoffs for the Seattle Seahawks. A renowned run stopper at the time, he suffered an ankle injury during the season that required four procedures and eventually led to the Seahawks releasing him.
Cole had moved to Charlotte late last year to be closer to family, and by chance the Panthers signed him in February.
"It's going good. I'm continuing to work, improve and knock the rust off," Cole said. "I'm just going to continue to max out my reps every chance I get and work as hard as I can to help this team."
Rivera certainly thinks he can help the Panthers. Like Dwan Edwards in 2012, Cole came to Carolina with more of a 3-4 background, but Edwards is helping him make the adjustment.
"He kind of reverted to the techniques he had learned playing a true nose, but here we play more what we call a 'tilt,' " Rivera said. "He had to adjust to those things, and now you're starting to see it in his play."
PLAYING IT SMART: Linebacker Jon Beason loves football as much as anybody and would love to be playing in the preseason opener, but he's keeping his focus on the big picture.
"Everything is geared toward September 8," said Beason, who has yet to practice as he continues to rehab from offseason knee surgery. "I'm trying to make a permanent comeback from a temporary setback."
While Beason would like to play in the preseason, he said he won't do anything to jeopardize to be ready for the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
"Football is fun. This is our job, our livelihood, and for some of us it's our life – it's that important to us," he said. "I enjoy the grind. I like to be out there, like the competition.
"We're just taking it day by day. Obviously I want to be out there as soon as possible, but I might as well take advantage of the time."
SECONDARY PLANS: Safety Haruki Nakamura believes the Panthers defense is in a really good place as the preseason gets under way.
Now, Nakamura is working on finding his place.
Nakamura started 13 games at free safety last year before a groin injury ended his season. The Panthers shifted Charles Godfrey over from strong safety and liked what they saw, so Godfrey is expected to open the season as the starter at free safety.
"I feel like I'm competing for a starting position, just like anybody else on our offense, defense and special teams," Nakamura said. "Everybody knows I can play special teams – I've always been known as a pretty good special teams player. That's without question, and if they ask me to do that, that's what I'll do.
"In the secondary, we're all competing, all trying to get a starting spot. The best four are going to play back there. Whatever decisions the coach and GM make, that's the way it's going to be."
Whatever Nakamura's role, he can't wait to see what this defense can do.
"The confidence level is extremely high," he said. "We're a very humble group but very dedicated to building on what we did last year. We're very excited."
IN THE RUNNING: It's always an uphill battle for undrafted rookie free agents to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but fullback Michael Zordich is fighting the good fight.
"I'm working hard, trying to do things right, and I feel like I'm playing pretty well," Zordich said. "I've just got to try to take advantage of any opportunity I'm given and let the coaches know that I'm worthy of being on this team."
Zordich made his latest notable play Thursday, turning a swing pass from quarterback Derek Anderson into a short touchdown. Of course, the Penn State product would love to make much the same impact in the Panthers' first game.
"There are a lot of guys out there that are playing for spots," Zordich said. "We're all ready to show the coaches what we have and what we can do."