CHARLOTTE – When the first day of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) concluded, a laughing Mike Tolbert walked off the practice field with his jersey in one hand and his helmet in another.
Under the jersey, the fullback was sporting a "Panthers Run the South" T-shirt, which was distributed last season after Carolina claimed the division title for a second consecutive year.
No team had ever won back-to-back NFC South championships. Now, the Panthers are aiming to take further control of the division by winning it three times in a row.
"We don't even think about it. This shirt was in my locker, and I needed a shirt under my jersey," Tolbert said with a wry smile. "We want to win and just keep getting better. If you do that, things like (a division title) take care of itself."
Another step in the process of defending the division crown began with a steamy day on the practice field Tuesday to kick off the first of 10 OTA practices, which lead up to the team's three-day mandatory minicamp June 16-18.
"This is my fourth season here, and this is by far the best start to OTAs we've had," Tolbert said. "Everybody is excited. The offense is looking crisp. Defense was flying around as usual. It's fun right now."
Cornerback Josh Norman, who tweeted on Monday that he felt like a kid waiting anxiously to shop in a candy store, agreed.
"Everybody was having fun today – that was the biggest thing," Norman said. "It starts in OTAs, and this was our first day in helmets. Guys were out there flying around."
Although contact is not yet permitted, the competitive juices returned as teams are allowed to line up the offense against the defense.
"To get out here and go one-on-one and compete against each other was a great feeling," Norman said. "It's a job for us but it's something I love to do. We have a lot of people like that on this team."