SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was anxious to settle his nerves and settle into the game in Friday's preseason opener against the Bears.
"That first series," Lotulelei said, "I had to get all the butterflies out of my stomach and everything."
But that first series turned out to be one play thanks to cornerback Josh Norman's interception.
"It was great. You always love seeing the big plays from our defense; that's what we expect," Lotulelei said. "It was good to get the nerves out in one play."
Fellow rookie defensive tackle Kawann Short said the fact that he was about to perform on an NFL stage hit him just prior to kickoff.
"I was talking to Star right before we started and I was like, 'Man, we're here. We're in the NFL.'" Short said. "It's a blessing."
Added Lotulelei: "It was kind of a surreal moment."
Lotulelei took the field with the first team defense and Short, who combined with defensive end Charles Johnson for a sack, didn't have to wait long before getting his chance in the defensive tackle rotation.
Head coach Ron Rivera was encouraged by what he saw from the rookie duo in their NFL debuts.
"They fared pretty doggone well," Rivera said. "Very pleased with what we got out of both of them. Star did the things that we were looking for – he was disruptive in the middle, he didn't allow the quarterback to step up and we were able to get pressure on the outside. As far as running up the middle, he plugged it like we were hoping for.
"KK, again, a little bit of a work in progress in the run defense, but very pleased with him as he penetrated and got vertical into the offensive backfield. They've got a long way to go. But this was a good step in the right direction."
EDWARDS' PROGRESS CONTINUES: Prior to the preseason opener, Rivera said he was eager to see how wide receiver Armanti Edwards –a training camp standout – would respond to live action.
Edwards was targeted twice and reeled in two catches for 38 yards. To Rivera's delight, he looked like the same player who has been turning heads in Spartanburg.
"I know I've come a long way," Edwards said.
Edwards, who has five career receptions for 121 yards in three years, served as the Panthers No. 3 wide receiver Friday night against Chicago.
He says the coaches' increased confidence and trust in him has helped raise his game.
"It's very different. I feel like I'm a guy that can be counted on this year," Edwards said. "In the past three years, I felt like I made the roster, but at the same time, I wasn't being accountable."
First-year wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl's advice has been particularly helpful.
"The main thing (Ricky) keeps telling me is, 'Just go out and play fast. If you play fast, everything else will come with it,'" Edwards said. "I tried to start playing fast, and the ah ha moments started happening."
SAFETIES IN SYNC: In the offseason, safeties Charles Godfrey and Mike Mitchell both trained at Bommarito Performance in Florida and that allowed them to get familiar with one another prior to their first season as teammates.
"We had some good workouts and talked a little bit about the season, about the plan that we had in mind," Godfrey said.
Godfrey, the team's starting free safety, and Mitchell, the front-runner to earn the starting strong safety job and the starter on Friday, have continued to develop chemistry together.
"Our personalities kind of mesh, and now that we've been working together, he's seen me make and plays, I've seen him make plays, and we're gaining a level of trust for each other where we don't really have to talk about it. We just see how each other's moving. We can play off of each other," Mitchell said.
"We still have a lot of growth to do, though. We did some good things for the first preseason game, but we have a long way to go."
PANTHERS EXTEND MEDIA AGREEMENTS: The Panthers have renewed three longtime partnerships with local television and radio stations.
For 2013 and the next two seasons, WCCB (CW/Ch. 18) will remain the Charlotte market TV home for all Carolina Panthers preseason games as well as the team's 30-minute, weekend magazine show, "Panthers Huddle with Ron Rivera", which will air in a new time slot – Saturday's at 11pm.
In addition, the team's relationship with WCNC (NBC/Ch. 36) has been extended for 3 seasons as well. "Panthers Game Day", the 30-minute highlight show, will continue to air Sundays on WCNC immediately after the late news.
Finally, having served as the radio flagship of the Carolina Panthers for 13 of the team's 18-year history, WBT-AM/FM and the Panthers have agreed on a three-year extension to keep the radio broadcasts there through 2015.