C.J. Wilson, shown last year in practice, kept busy working out in the weeks before returning to Bank of America Stadium. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)
CHARLOTTE -- The clanking of weights. The playful needling among teammates. These were two of the sounds that returned to Bank of America Stadium on Monday morning, as the Panthers gathered for the first day of their offseason strength and conditioning program at Bank of America Stadium.
And if they thought that strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons might ease them into the routine, they thought wrong.
"It's no game, no joke. You better not think, 'Let's work our way into it," said cornerback C.J. Wilson, who subsequently pointed at a nearby digital audio recorder to underscore his point. "Just like this machine -- when it turns on, it turns on full. That's how Jerry is.
"I like it."
Added offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau: "(Simmons) went all out. He was ready for us. But that's part of the game. Down the line, it's all worth it."
Monday's work brought a resounding end to the two-month pause on the players' calendar that began the day after the divisional-playoff loss to Arizona. But while there weren't organized workouts, the players took steps to maintain fitness during the interim.
Some, like wide receiver Kenneth Moore, kept working out at Bank of America Stadium. Others scattered -- such as tight end Gary Barnidge, who worked out in his hometown of Middleburg, Fla., and Wilson, who went back to Texas, where he was under the close watch of family -- who helped keep him going.
"I'll go in and do about 15-20 minutes of work, and (would hear), 'Nuh-uh. You keep going,'" said Wilson, who dutifully obliged the advice, knowing it was true.
Bernadeau also went home, to Massachusetts, but soon meandered southwest to Wyckoff, N.J., where he prepared for last year's pre-draft workouts at DeFranco's Training System and found himself surrounded by NFL aspirants in this year's draft class.
"The reason I went someplace else was because I trained with a lot of guys who were in the NFL this year," Bernadeau said. "It was good because you had that same sort of motivation, that everyone wants to get better. It's a lot different than going home and training by yourself, with somebody not being in the same situation."
But at Bank of America Stadium, the struggle is shared, which is why the Panthers who converged upon the locker room Monday knew they needed to return, even though they'd remained in shape the last two months.
"You have to work out," Barnidge said. "You have to push yourself."
But there's only so much they could do away from each other..
"It's good to come back here, because everyone wants to push each other, push to win, trying to get bigger, stronger, faster and better," Bernadeau said.
"I like to work out on my own, so I can challenge myself," Wilson added. "But when you come back here and see Richard (Marshall), Gam (Chris Gamble), Nate Salley and all these other guys killing each other to finish first, it pulls you to finish first, as well."