CHARLOTTE – The blazing heat wasn't the only thing that made the final day of the Panthers' offseason workout program feel like training camp.
Throughout the last couple of weeks, the Panthers performed like a team primed for the preseason.
"This team is further along," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We're a little bit more established at a few positions – wide receiver, offensive line, secondary. Last year we weren't as much so, plus our quarterback wasn't healthy. He took really big steps this year, had some really good days."
Cam Newton, who watched from the sideline this time last year while recovering from ankle surgery, had all eyes on him throughout a productive spring.
"This was one of our better camps, and for me to be out there and get the reps that I wasn't able to get last year, it felt great," Newton said. "It started early. Guys came back to camp ready to play, ready to compete.
"Everybody is expecting great things from each other, and when you have that, you have a team that's yearning to prove themselves and make plays for each other."
Newton and linebacker Thomas Davis set the tone for the offseason workouts, and the Panthers never let off the pedal.
"The competition was good, and the guys got after each other – especially Cam and TD," Rivera said. "It's good to see these guys get fired up and compete against each other and challenge each other, because that's how you get better. That was good to see."
Besides a series of hamstring and groin issues, Rivera also was glad to see the Panthers come out of minicamp healthy. Having most of the pieces in place most of the time put Newton in positon to work on the finer points of his game.
"It's all about footwork and trusting the protection," Newton said. "When you do that, and when you have guys running routes as precise as we were this camp, it makes it easy for me."
Now that the Panthers have reached this point on the calendar, it isn't about making things easy for themselves. They won't officially get back together before training camp kicks off at the end of July, but they can't afford to just rest on their laurels until then.
"Discipline is the word," center Ryan Kalil said. "We talk all the time about being professional football players, and that's what that entails – being disciplined and putting the onus on yourself to make sure you're doing what you need to do.
"It's real easy to sleep in and not do anything, but you've got to wake up and push yourself."
Rivera said that message was delivered loud and clear in the final team meeting before the final practice.
"The challenge has been made," Rivera said. "A few guys got up and spoke in the team meeting today – three of our veteran leaders – telling the guys that these five weeks aren't about spring break. They're about getting ready to come into training camp.
"We got to a level, and we want to return at that level. We don't want to start from scratch."