CHARLOTTE - Two years ago, Panthers players who arrived early in the morning for the first day of offseason workouts faced temperatures hovering around 40 degrees.
Monday, the first wave of arrivals enjoyed temperatures closer to 60 degrees.
The difference had nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with the NFL's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which among other things affords players an extra month off following the season.
"We got a little bit more of an extended break this offseason, and I think it's good, think it's healthy," Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. "It gets you excited to get back, almost antsy."
Kalil, along with teammates old and new, brought Bank of America Stadium to life Monday. The mood was jovial around the facility as the Panthers kicked off voluntary workouts that will span the next nine weeks.
"It's kind of like the first day of school around here, catching up on what everybody did on their break," Kalil said. "Now it's just getting back into things and getting down to business."
The schedule has been consolidated since the last full offseason in 2010, when a 14-week program typically concluded with 14 days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). The new schedule features 10 OTAs and lasts nine weeks, with only the last week mandatory.
Here's a look at what's in store for Panthers players over the next couple of months:
--Offseason workouts are now divided into three phases. Phase One, two weeks in length, began Monday. Up until the NFL Draft on April 26, players are allowed to take part in "strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only" with just the team's strength and conditioning coaches allowed to take part. Footballs can only be used by quarterbacks throwing to uncovered receivers, and helmets aren't allowed.
--During the three-week Phase Two that begins April 30, helmets and live contact aren't allowed, but all coaches are allowed to take part. In addition to providing individual instruction on the field, coaches may implement "perfect play" drills, meaning the offense and defense can act as a unit but not against each other (the same goes for special teams). The Panthers also will hold a rookie mini-camp, called the "Rookie Premiere" in the CBA, during this phase – the only weekend activity permitted during offseason workouts.
--Phase Three begins May 21 and runs for four weeks. The first three weeks will feature 10 OTAs, during which helmets but no other pads may be worn. Live contact still isn't allowed, but the offense and defense may run plays against each other and the kicking team may run drills against the return team. The final week will feature the only required part of the offseason program: a three-day, mandatory mini-camp for veterans.