CHARLOTTE – After 11 years in the NFL, one wouldn't expect Ron Edwards to savor a rookie camp just days prior to the official start of training camp.
Yet on Tuesday, there was the defensive tackle drenched in sweat, smiling as he chatted with a group of reporters after practice.
"It's great being out on the field and getting my hands in the dirt. It's just what I do," Edwards said. "Being without it does something to me. I'm really enjoying this."
For Edwards, who was forced out of action for the entire 2011 season (his first season with the Panthers) with a triceps injury, his present joy is a stark contrast to the hurt he felt last year.
"It's like being that kid locked up in school and watching everybody else out there playing around through the window," Edwards said of his rehabilitation process. "Being out here again is making my year."
And he can make a difference for defensive line coach Eric Washington's unit, as well as the Panthers defense as a whole.
"He has the ability to make our defense work, to make our defense fit," Washington said. "We're excited about having him out there."
Edwards, who helped anchor the defensive line for several years in both Kansas City and Buffalo, did what he could last season as a mentor for the inexperienced Carolina defensive tackles – a group that started two rookies for most of the year.
It was a role he felt was expected of him whether he could suit up on Sundays or not.
So Edwards made himself readily available to the young teammates, such as Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, that could benefit from his veteran insight.
"I believe they brought me here for a reason – to be an older guy and help the younger guys out," Edwards explained. "I couldn't just up and go.
"When something doesn't go your way, you have to stick in there and play it out, help any way you can."
That's a message all players would be wise to learn from.
"Ron's character is off the charts, and his integrity is off the charts," Washington said. "He was devastated (last year) and he did a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances, because regardless of being a mentor he is a competitor."
Now, Edwards can compete.
He can line up next to the defensive tackles he mentored instead of watching them in street clothes from the sideline.
He can impact a defense that missed him a season ago.
"He still has the savvy, the experience, the leadership. He just needs to practice," Washington said. "He's got a whole lot left."