CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers officially began their voluntary offseason workout program Monday, with some players seeing each other for the first time in months.
For many players, however, it was just like any other day at Bank of America Stadium.
"There have been a good number of guys who have been here the whole offseason," veteran left tackle Jordan Gross said. "But it's good to see everybody."
Gross, who underwent ankle surgery in February, has been a regular around the stadium. Same goes for linebacker Jon Beason, recovering from knee and shoulder injuries that cost him the final 12 games of the 2012 season. Ditto for center Ryan Kalil, still rehabbing a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games.
"Everything has been going well. I'm on schedule," Kalil said. "Fortunately for us we have a great support staff here with our trainers. They do a great job."
Those getting in workouts prior to Monday weren't limited to recently injured players.
"Some guys go off and work where they're from, but since I live here, I came on in," said tackle Garry Williams, who estimated he had been joined by upwards of a dozen players on select days. "There's awhile before the season starts, but getting a head start is valuable."
Williams has seen familiar faces throughout the last couple of months, like linebacker Thomas Davis, as well as other faces he's just getting familiar with. Defensive tackle Colin Cole, signed two months ago after last playing in an NFL game in 2010, has made himself at home.
"Colin Cole has been around, and he looks like a guy that can help us," Gross said. "He's been out of football getting healthy, and I think he's really eager to get back and prove himself."
Cole's opportunities to prove himself picked up beginning Monday.
While players could work out at the stadium prior to Monday with minimal input from the training staff, strength and conditioning coach Joe Kenn and his staff can now be more hands-on. The first two weeks of the nine-week program will feature strength and conditioning work with Kenn and Co., with footballs allowed only on the field for quarterbacks to toss to receivers.
"We get to actually put our hands on our guys," Kenn said. "We're fortunate that a lot of our guys have been in town, using our facility the last few months, but now we get to coach. The most important thing is that we get to go out on the field with them and start moving them around.
"It's been a good group since the day I arrived here. That has made our job a lot easier – our guys' commitment to the team."
In Phase Two, head coach Ron Rivera and his staff will be able to join the players on the field for drills, though the three-week period won't include helmets or offense-versus-defense snaps.
During Phase Three, helmets and offense-versus-defense drills will be allowed, and the Panthers will hold a three-day mandatory minicamp during one of the phase's four weeks. The other three weeks will feature a total of 10 organized team activities, practice sessions more commonly known as "OTAs."
"It's the strength and conditioning coaches only with the players for two weeks, then we have a three-week Phase Two where we have a combination of the coaches and the strength and conditioning coaches," Kenn said. "The ultimate goal for the first five weeks is to prepare our athletes to the best of our abilities so that we have great OTAs and wrap up the offseason with a great mini-camp in June."
Live contact isn't permitted during any phase of the offseason program, but Panthers players and coaches will enjoy and benefit from again being in constant contact with each other.
"You can't wait when the season is over to get out of the building and get away from everybody, but come April, you start getting itchy to get back into things," Gross said. "I'm actually excited to get back into the meeting room. It's what we do, and when you've been away from it and recharge your batteries, it's nice to be around the guys and get that football feeling again."