CHARLOTTE – Like any good football coach, Ron Rivera found himself already thinking about the next major step in the development of his team, looking forward to the opening of training camp in about six weeks before all his players had even exited the practice field following the final day of offseason workouts.
"Rejuvenating is important, but you always worry because you want these guys to come back ready to roll, ready to play football," Rivera said. "So far, so good."
Rivera's final words were specifically about quarterback Cam Newton (more on that in a minute), but they easily apply to the entire Panthers team after what Rivera called "four good weeks" wrapped up Thursday with the final day of minicamp.
All told, NFL offseason workouts last nine weeks, the action amping up over the past month with 10 organized team activities over three weeks before a three-day minicamp capped it.
The Panthers came into the offseason program focused on implementing new concepts on defense while building upon a system on offense that offensive coordinator Norv Turner implemented the year before.
Rivera sounded happy with the progress made on both sides.
"Probably the biggest thing as far as the defense is concerned is picking up some of the things that we want to do, some of the different looks that we're working on. That's pretty exciting; they picked it up very quickly and seemed to adapt themselves very well to it," Rivera said. "Based on some of the tape I've had an opportunity to watch, I think the guys really see how it can impact the game. I'm excited about that.
"Offensively, we're going into our second season with it, and I think the scheme is really coming along very nicely. Probably the biggest thing you got to see were the skill positions; you see the growth there."
A mention of the offense naturally is followed by a mention of Newton, whose offseason work took a significant step during minicamp in the form of forward passes with his new and improved shoulder and throwing motion.
"He had a great day today; in fact he threw a little bit more than we anticipated. He's feeling really good," Rivera said. "He'll just continue to progress through the program they've set up. They obviously have a plan for him for how he's going to work and who he's going to work with. They'll do what they've done in the past; my understanding is that he and a group of receivers will get together and they'll go on their little getaway just before we get together.
"He's gone through every step that we've asked, so I'm just looking forward to when we get to training camp."
Rivera stressed with the players and shared with the media his expectation that his team will be physically and mentally prepared to pick up where it left off when players return in late July.
The veterans certainly know the deal.
"This is like a springboard into training camp," right guard Trai Turner said. "Hopefully everybody stays on the right track, stays in the right frame of mind. That way we can hit training camp running and not have to restart."
Tight end Greg Olsen has been at this longer than any player on the roster. His 13th offseason program in the books, next up is his 13th training camp.
"You got to get your bodies right, you got to train the right way and be ready to come back," Olsen said. "When we start in training camp, it's for real."
View photos from the third and final practice of mandatory minicamp.