CHARLOTTE — Andre Roberts is one of the most tenured veterans on the Panthers' generally young roster, and he knows a thing or two about the ups and downs of the regular season. The language, on the other hand, can be a little new to him sometimes.
The 13-year pro said the energy is usually positive around the locker room heading into Week 1, and there was no difference Monday as the Panthers got ready for the opener. While high spirits are expected before the first play of the season, Roberts had to get one clarification.
"Explain vibes, that's a whole new word to me, because you know I'm older," the 34-year-old Roberts joked.
"At this point, everybody's 0-0," he said. "(We're) ready to start the season, ready to go against our first opponent. For us, I think everybody's in a great mood, ready to work, and ready to get this thing started."
Roberts joined the Panthers' roster primarily as a return specialist, coming to Carolina as a three-time Pro Bowler with 8,578 kickoff and punt return yards combined, the most in the league since he started with the Cardinals as a third-round pick in 2010. And that return specialist role is one Roberts is happy to play.
"What I like about it (is) just getting the ball every play," Roberts said. "As a receiver, you don't know if you're going to get the ball. But as a returner, it's coming to you every time. So it's nice to know that I'm going to get the ball every time."
Roberts didn't return any kicks or punts throughout the preseason, though he did lend advice to second-year wideout Shi Smith, who came along both as a receiver and in the return game throughout camp. Roberts said he's looking forward to seeing Smith take a step forward this year.
"Shi Smith is a good young player," Roberts said. "He has a lot to learn, and he's willing to learn. That's the best part about it. He's willing to learn from the older guys, and I think he's coming along nicely."
Roberts said he's feeling "great" after the preseason and is optimistic about how the Panthers grew as a team throughout camp.
From all his experience, Roberts also knows how mindsets adjust from camp to the regular season once the first opponent comes to town.
"It's go-time," Roberts said. "The biggest difference is that it all counts. It all means a lot more."
— Even though it was Labor Day, players and reporters alike were on the clock again.
Monday marked the first open locker room of the regular season, which means the first in three seasons since COVID-19 restrictions went into place during the 2020 season.
Since then, reporters who cover the team have had a steady diet of press conferences at a distance or Zoom calls, which don't offer the same kind of chance to get to know players and share their stories. It also allows them to see a more human side of players, from the ping pong table and the barber's chair (Brady Christensen and Johnny Hekker were able to get a trim after practice) to Phil Hoskins walking through with a hot dog and listening to his teammates give him a hard time about it.
Some veterans (including quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Christian McCaffrey) will still take to the podium for most of their media obligations. Still, more guys such as Brian Burns and DJ Moore, and others held court Monday, along with rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu.
Longtime long snapper JJ Jansen, the team's oldest and longest-serving player, pointed out that while some view it as an inconvenience, it can be a beneficial situation for both sides.
"Fans are going get to know Ickey in a way they never got to get to know Jaycee Horn," Jansen said while Ekwonu was talking, referring to last year's first-round pick. "I think players really miss the opportunity to intelligently and respectfully interact with the media. This is only to his benefit. If you take it adversarial it can hurt you, but if you take it as playful and banter and answer questions it's fine. Most of this is pretty easy, it's pretty straightforward."
— Even though it's Labor Day, certain labors take precedence over football as well.
— New defensive end Henry Anderson was at practice Monday in his new number 94 jersey, hours after signing his new deal here.
The former Colts, Jets, and Patriots end was brought in to help fortify the run defense behind starter Yetur Gross-Matos.
"He brings a lot of versatility, he plays inside and out, he's a big guy," Burns said of the 6-foot-6 Anderson. "I'm pretty sure he has a good reputation for stopping the run, so he can really, really help us out in that. And he can also help backing up Yetur and giving him a blow, so having another defensive end is a great addition."
— Rhule said it was a "difficult decision" for the team to part ways with 2021 fifth-rounder Daviyon Nixon to make room for Anderson on the active roster. But the team still has five defensive tackles, and Rhule said they liked what they've seen from Hoskins and rookie Marquan McCall so far.
— He'll be out for at least the first four weeks after being placed on injured reserve, but backup quarterback Sam Darnold was on the practice field without a walking boot Monday, as he recovers from his preseason ankle injury.
Carolina is 4-2 against Cleveland all-time.