CHARLOTTE - As much as Panthers players are ready for some football - even if it is training camp in 100-plus-degree heat - their new coach might be even more excited.
"It's great," first-year head coach Ron Rivera said. "One of my strengths is coaching out on the field, with the players. One of the things I'm not really fond of is paper pushing. That's no fun at all."
Rivera will get to leave his desk behind and have a little fun this weekend when the Panthers kick off training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. Their first practice is Saturday evening, complete with a Back to Football Party at Gibbs Stadium.
Rivera might still have to sneak a peek at a piece of paper in the form of a roster. In the light of a work stoppage that lasted for more than four months, Rivera will meet some of Carolina's veteran players for the first time at training camp, not to mention the multitude of players that are being added to the roster to get it up to a whopping 90 for camp.
"I really hadn't had an opportunity to meet a lot of the players beforehand, so now it's kind of refreshing to have a bunch of new faces running around," Rivera said. "Now we've got to develop relationships – the working relationship, the trusting relationship that you have to have to be successful.
"It's going to be on us coaches to make sure we teach these guys and give them reason to trust us, to believe in us."
Many of the players worked toward strengthening those relationships with each other during an impromptu two-week camp in Charlotte during the work stoppage. Coaches weren't allowed to participate, but all parties should benefit from the positive work that went on during the players-only sessions.
"We had the majority of the team at workouts, and guys were working hard," offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "They were in shape. Now we just have to learn the playbook and the system."
That will be easier said than done during such a small window. In addition to the lack of mini-camps during the offseason for a new coaching staff, the new collective bargaining agreement eliminates the majority of the two-a-day practices synonymous with training camp.
The task will be even taller for the Panthers' rookies, who would have faced a steep learning curve coming from college even without additional obstacles.
"They're going to have a lot on their plate because it's going to be fast-paced," Bernadeau said. "The offseason is going to be a lot shorter, so you've just got to get into it and learn the playbook. We're going to help them along the way."
Second-year defensive end Eric Norwood believes that Panthers young and old will make the adjustment - comparing playing football to riding a bike – but Rivera still plans to start out at a slow pace before truly putting the pedal to the metal.
Of course, moving forward at any speed is better than sitting in idle.
"Our first couple of practices are going to be spent feeling the situation out," Rivera said. "We want to put people in a position to learn while at the same time not putting anybody at risk in terms of early injury.
"But it feels great. It's about time."