SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When Dave Gettleman spoke previously about the team he inherited as the new general manager of the Carolina Panthers, the opinions he held were based largely on brief encounters.
It was a whirlwind for him as he began adjusting to a new organization, building a relationship with head coach Ron Rivera, getting the team under the salary cap and preparing the roster for training camp.
With five camp practices now complete, Gettleman has had time to settle in, and get to know the players and coaches, and he maintains the same enthusiasm he brought to the podium when he was first introduced.
"I'm blessed beyond my wildest dreams to have this job," Gettleman said.
Building a successful franchise often means building around a quarterback.
In Carolina, Gettleman will build the team's future around Cam Newton.
"Yes. He is (that quarterback)," Gettleman said. "But now it's time to win.
"Cam has had the best two years of any rookie quarterback in NFL history," he added. "Everybody talks about the other (quarterbacks), the other young kids. What he's done has gotten completely lost in the sauce because of the elephant in the room, because of the 13-19 record."
Gettleman believes Newton has the talent and work ethic required to raise his level of play and remove that elephant in the room.
"He's really physically gifted obviously," Gettleman said. "He's gotten better. He keeps improving. What you're looking for is ascension, and he consistently does it.
"He works his fanny off and there's no reason he can't continue to ascend, and I think he will."
Gettleman said he and Rivera have built "a very good relationship" in the short time they've known each other.
"I've given him all my support, and he knows it," Gettleman said.
When asked if he set any particular expectations for Rivera entering his third season, Gettleman replied: "I didn't set any expectations. I think that's a mistake.
"My goal was to put them (coaches) in a position to be successful, just like their goal is to put players in a position to have success. That's been my goal all along."
Gettleman said he's been impressed with the coaching staff's approach to practice and he's taken notice of their cohesiveness as a unit.
"They enjoy each other and with the way they work together it tells me they really trust each other," Gettleman said. "To me, this is a very together group.
"They're teachers, which is huge in this business. A lot of times, these kids come out of college, and they're not fundamentally sound and they need work. We have to train these guys. Ron's staff is loaded with very good teachers. I'm really pleased."
The first item on Gettleman's lengthy agenda this offseason was getting the team under the salary cap.
One of the methods used to do that was restructuring several players' contracts.
"Being honest, being direct, laying the cards out on the table, then stepping away and letting everybody think about it. I think that was the key," Gettleman said of the restructuring process. "I'm a very direct person. I just am. That's the way I'm built. And NFL players appreciate it. I was just very honest, open and direct with them."
Gettleman noted that the players' willingness to accept restructured deals speaks to the way they feel about the Panthers organization.
"It tells me that guys understand the grass isn't always greener. This is a heck of an organization," Gettleman said. "The players are treated top shelf, and players talk amongst each other. They talk.
"Up in New York, we signed a UFA (unrestricted free agent) and the first day he comes out of the cafeteria, I walk by him and say 'How's the food?' He looked at me and said, 'This is unbelievable.' He said, 'The place I just came from – they had food. But we would order out.' Players get treated well here."
With the first week of training camp nearing its end, Gettleman likes the makeup of his team.
"We've got a very strong core," Gettleman said. "Offensively, you have Cam, Steve (Smith), Greg Olsen, Jordan (Gross) and Ryan (Kalil) and Piggy (Geoff Hangartner). You have veteran guys there that know how to play. There are more than enough tools.
"Defensively, we've got good depth up front. The linebacking crew is solid. Our secondary is a work in progress. We've been in camp six days, and a lot of it is just a work in progress."
And in regards to the secondary, Gettleman is encouraged by what he's seen from free agents that were added to the mix.
"We brought in guys that have NFL chops. Drayton Florence is a 10-year vet, he knows how to play the game. D.J. Moore – he's got 10 picks in three years. He's an instinctive football player, he gets his gloves on the ball. Mike Mitchell – for him to have the stats that he had in Oakland with that percentage of play time… I feel good about those guys. They are having a good camp so far.
"We've (added solid pieces) and we've got a plan in place," Gettleman said. "It's not going to happen overnight. It takes time and patience."