SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Barely an interview with 2013 second-round draft choice Kawann Short goes by when he isn't asked about 2013 first-round pick and fellow defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
That's just fine by him.
"We're good friends, and that's one of the perks that comes with it," Short said. "I know he won't bad-mouth me, and I won't bad-mouth him."
Short and Lotulelei aren't roommates at training camp this year like they were as rookies, and Lotulelei admitted that the extra space is a good thing for both. But otherwise they're pretty much inseparable, a bond that remains unbroken on the field to the frustration of opposing offensive lines.
"We're still together like we're roommates. We drove here together," Short said. "I go right in my room and go to bed anyway - I don't even have a TV, don't even want one. I'm here to work, and he's here to work, too."
That dedication should pay dividends again this season after both were named All-Rookie by the Professional Football Writers Association last season.
Lotulelei started all 16 games and posted 42 tackles and three sacks while providing a consistent push in the middle of the line regardless of whether it resulted in a stat for him. Short came off the bench all 16 games and recorded 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks while ranking second on the team with 21 quarterback pressures.
Rotating with veterans Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards, the former rookies are creating chaos that's already being felt by a rookie on the other side of the line.
"It's tough," rookie guard Trai Turner said. "When it's a six- or seven-play drive and Star comes out and somebody like Dwan comes in or K.K. comes in, it's like, 'Man, I don't get a break.'
"They come in fresh and you're tired, but that does nothing but prepare you for the season."
Turner is experiencing a trial-by-fire similar to the one that Lotulelei and Short endured this time last year. The rookie-free zone created by defensive line coach Eric Washington helped the duo get off to a good start and has them ahead of the curve entering their second season.
"When I first got here, Coach Washington and all the guys were telling me, 'It's not college. There are no redshirts, no rookies. We expect you to play and do big things,' " Short said. "Me and Star took that and ran with it, and now we have that experience and the opportunity to do better.
"Coach Washington gives you the guidelines, leads you to the water, and then you've just got to do it."
The tandem's head coach believes that's exactly what's happening.
"There's a confidence about them. There's no longer that rookie uncertainty," head coach Ron Rivera said. "They're veterans. Granted it's only their second year, but there is an air of confidence about the way they're going about things.
"Star and K.K. both came in in tremendous shape and are both very focused. It looks like both are ready to take the next step."
While Lotulelei said he doesn't exactly know what "taking the next step" means, Short said it could take the form of the Panthers becoming the top-ranked defense in the NFL after finishing second last year.
Whatever the next step, expect Short and Lotulelei to do it together.
"Me and K.K. spend a lot of time together because we play the same position and came in the same time as rookies," Lotulelei said. "We've grown together, and we're still growing. Learning together it makes it easier."