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For Panthers, time is now

SPARTANBURG, S.C.  – "Sense of urgency" was a phrase voiced by various Panthers as they arrived at their training camp dormitory on Thursday.

But for wide receiver Steve Smith, it wasn't quite enough to properly articulate his mindset heading into the 2013 season.

"A sense of urgency," he said, "is an understatement."

Sure, there were laughs and smiles and warm greetings as the players unloaded their cars and found their rooms, but the business-like approach Smith unveiled was prevalent.

It's been four years since the Panthers enjoyed a winning season. Like Smith, left tackle Jordan Gross is desperate for that to change.

"Hopefully we'll be able to look back and see the last few seasons as a transition period for the Carolina Panthers, rolling out of the John Fox era and into the Ron Rivera era and Dave Gettleman era," Gross said. "Anytime there's change, there is going to be a little bit of an adjustment.

"We are way past that point now. It's time for us to do what we've been designed to do."

Slow starts have ruined that design in recent years. The players need no reminder.

"Slow starts will get you fired, cut and changed – real quick," Smith said.

The 2-8 start in 2012 was followed by a late season surge where the Panthers won five of their last six games.

A nice way to finish, but too little too late.

"It is definitely legitimate. We can't put ourselves in that hole and think that a late, six-game push is going to put us over the top," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We need those late-season pushes, but that's to put you into the playoffs, not to just try to salvage a season, which is kind of how it's been for us the last couple years.

"We need to make those games in November and December real. And the only way to do that is to get off to a good start and put ourselves in contention."

The need for a strong start has no doubt increased the urgency level felt on the Wofford University campus.

But as linebacker Luke Kuechly pointed out, "A sense of urgency is something you need to have regardless."

Especially for those who aren't guaranteed a spot when the roster gets cut from 90 players to 53.

"Last time I checked, somebody ain't going to make it," Smith said. "You actually get to see what people have, what they don't have.

"And (in training camp) you have the lights, which is a lot more pressure, especially for young guys. In some cases for older guys too, depending on their circumstances."

In camp, the 2013 Panthers – young and old – will take shape. And they plan on taking that collective sense of urgency to the field.

"(Training camp) is where we have to make a lot of strides as a team," Olsen said. "We'll find out a lot about ourselves and where we're at.

"This is really the only time that you find out. OTAs and minicamp, everybody looks great. You're not hitting… This is real. Now we play football."

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