CHARLOTTE – As the media gathered around Justin Medlock following Panthers practice Tuesday, one reporter congratulated him on being the last kicker standing.
"Thanks," Medlock said. "But it's not over."
The Panthers released a pair of veteran specialists Monday - kicker Olindo Mare and punter Nick Harris – paving the way for Medlock and punter Brad Nortman.
It's a breakthrough for Medlock - whose last NFL kick was as a rookie in the 2007 season opener - and a relief for Nortman, a rookie.
But neither is planning to pop open the champagne just yet.
"I have to keep earning it every day," Nortman said. "Your last punt is the only punt that matters. So even though as of now I'm here and doing well, I've got to keep that ball rolling."
Both rolled through the preseason, with Medlock making all three of his field goals and Nortman averaging 45.7 yards per punt. Their performances, despite their relative lack of experience, buoyed the Panthers to part ways with a pair of kickers with a combined 26 NFL seasons under their belts.
"It was more than just kicking; it was for the future and what we want to do as we go forward," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We had to look at the big picture - the big picture not just being guys with some experience, but guys that can be with us for a longer period of time.
"These are guys that can establish themselves and have nice, long careers in one spot."
While Mare and Harris were nearing the end of their careers, Nortman is just getting started. The Panthers picked him out of Wisconsin in the sixth round of the April draft, and he hasn't disappointed.
Nortman, the first punter ever drafted by the Panthers, said that both he and Medlock aren't concerned about their relative inexperience.
"We're both confident in our abilities," he said. "If we weren't talented, we wouldn't be here."
While Nortman clearly is at the beginning of his pro career, Medlock is starting over. He has plenty of good years remaining in his left leg, but this easily could have been the end of a long road if the Panthers had decided to go in a different direction.
A fifth-round choice by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007, Medlock kicked in the season opener of his rookie year and was then waived. He's fielded countless calls from NFL teams ever since but had been kicking in the Canadian Football League the last three years.
Just before the Panthers called, he was on the verge of signing to remain in the CFL. When he instead signed with the Panthers, he decided that this might well be his last stop regardless of how it turned out, a thought that crossed his mind again before Sunday's preseason game at the New York Jets.
"I walked out of the tunnel in New York, thinking, 'Hey, this could be the last game I ever play,' " Medlock said. "It's a one-game tryout every game. It doesn't matter if you signed a four-year deal or a one-game deal.
"You never know when it could be your last kick. Today, I was telling Brad and the snapper (J.J. Jansen), 'Hey, I just want to keep getting better.' My goal is to play well during the season and help this team win."