CHARLOTTE - On Friday, inside of a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel, the Charlotte Touchdown Club and Carolina Panthers hosted the team's annual Kickoff Luncheon to ring in the 2018 season.
The event featured a question-and-answer session hosted by longtime team commentators Mick Mixon and Jim Szoke. Head coach Ron Rivera was the first to take the stage, followed by running back Christian McCaffrey, linebacker Shaq Thompson and safety Colin Jones.
Rivera addressed where things stand regarding the upcoming roster decisions.
"Once I get back to the office, Marty and I will sit down and talk," Rivera said, referring to general manager Marty Hurney. "We'll go through the roster and talk about the initial cuts that we'll make and then we'll take a step back, look at the positions we need and then talk about the rest of the cuts."
When asked where he feels the Panthers can go this season, Rivera touched on the balance of a lineup he said could be one of the best of his tenure.
"We have a number of young players that are developing into the guys that we need them to be," he said. "We've got a good core of veterans right now that can still lead us and do the things that we need as far as being successful, but this is one of those teams. I think that there's so much potential and ability, it's tough to say. I think the real test will come Week 1 against Dallas."
After Rivera, the players took the stage to close out the program. Here are some of the highlights:
McCaffrey on how his love for MMA and Bruce Lee has molded his game: "I'm very into mixed martial arts. I train with a lot of UFC fighters in the offseason. I just kind of got attached. I started reading some of his philosophies and I think (Lee) had it figured out before a lot of people. He's just so good with his words; he knows exactly what to say. It seems like every time I pick up a quote from him, it's exactly what I'm thinking, whether it's in life or athletics."
Jones on how growing up in Texas shaped his passion for football: "It's just a given that that's what you're going to do. From the time you're eight years old to 18, everybody knows you're going to play football. And I grew up in a small town, so it was like 'Friday Night Lights'; the whole town gets behind you. It's a lot of fun."
Thompson on how learning from the Panthers' veterans have influenced him: "Between Mike Adams, Julius Peppers, TD [Thomas Davis], that's like 40-something years. Pep was playing when I was probably in second grade (laughs). I mean, I tell Pep, 'I was young when you came into the league.' [Peppers, Adams, Davis] give us a lot of knowledge on defense, and I think those are a couple of guys who really take their job seriously."
McCaffrey on what style fans should expect from the offense with Norv Turner at the helm: "I would say fast. I think we got a lot of speed on the offense, and obviously Coach Turner has a resume that speaks for itself. He's coached some of the best offenses in the history of football so you know we trust him, he trusts us and it's our jobs to go out there and execute and move the ball.
"I think the biggest thing for us is to stay consistent and avoid mistakes that we know we can eliminate. We got a lot of speed, we got a lot of weapons so it should be a fun show on Sundays."