CHARLOTTE – This time last year, Robert McClain was preparing for his first season with the New England Patriots – a season that never got off the ground.
So don't think for a second that McClain is resting on his laurels as an elder statesman among the Panthers' cornerbacks.
"That's how the NFL works – you're here to compete," McClain said. "You're not here to just have a job given to you. I want to compete for my job.
"The main goal as a team is to win, and the best players are going to be out there at the end of the day."
If McClain wants to compete, then the Panthers granted his wish with their actions in the NFL Draft. After not re-signing last year's starters – Josh Norman and Charles Tillman – they invested three consecutive picks in the draft on cornerbacks.
While the cornerbacks Carolina deems best will be on the field come Week 1, drafted rookies typically are given time to develop and thus given the benefit of the doubt come time to trim the roster.
So, despite starting all three of Carolina's playoff games last season after Tillman went down to a knee injury, McClain isn't guaranteed anything for the upcoming season.
That's just the way he wants it.
"We're all out here, just competing," McClain said. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity to be back on this team and to be out here competing in the sport I love every day."
All McClain wanted was a chance in 2015 after the Patriots drafted a pair of defensive backs and opted to release him before the start of the season. McClain didn't catch on with another team until late in the regular season, when the Panthers signed him after cornerback Bene Benwikere broke his leg. A month later, McClain found himself in the starting lineup for a deep playoff run with the team that had selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
"I did OK, but I still have a lot of things I need to improve on," McClain said. "Last season was last season. I have to improve on a lot of things to prepare for this season. My focus is really on that."
McClain is doing more during offseason workouts than just improving his own game. He's also working closely with Carolina's drafted rookies – James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez – to help get them up to speed.
"He has a lot of experience," Worley said of McClain. "I'm just trying to learn from the things that I not only see him do but also the things he talks about in the meeting room. He helps with knowing where to have your eyes on each play and what to expect."
McClain likes what he's seen from the rookies so far.
"We're melding together well," he said. "There are still a lot of things we have to do to get better with, including working together because there are a lot of different rotations we're using. We have to be able to work together no matter what personnel is in there."
Time will tell how the personnel will stack up at a suddenly crowded position and whether the group has what it takes to keep Carolina among the league's elite defenses.
McClain has no doubts.
"We're going to get the job done," he said. "We all work hard, all compete. We want to play together as a unit, and we're making each other better.
"If we do that every day during OTAs, minicamp and training camp, that will put us in a good position to play well."
View photos from the third week of Carolina's organized team activities.