CHARLOTTE – The Panthers returned to work Monday feeling better physically and mentally than they did before the bye week.
The real test, though, will be how they feel a week from now when they return to Bank of America Stadium following the start of their second season.
"The energy level was very high. There was a lot of talking, trying to work through things," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We have some work to do, but if we approach it with that attitude, things can start to go in the direction we believe it can."
The Panthers were 1-5 before the bye but hope to begin flipping the script Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals visit for a rematch of last year's NFC Championship. The process of the three-time reigning NFC South champions getting back to their winning ways began last week with an extended opportunity for injured players to heal up and for all of the players and coaches to lick their wounds from a surprisingly sluggish start.
On the physical side of things, cornerbacks James Bradberry, Robert McClain and Daryl Worley were able to take part in practice Monday, along with defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Paul Soliai. Bradberry has missed two games with turf toe, while McClain couldn't go last game because of a hamstring injury and Worley exited the last game and went into the concussion protocol.
"It felt good, coming out here and being able to practice with my teammates again," Bradberry said. "I feel like a part of the team again. I've been away so long.
"I thought I was going to be a little winded, but it wasn't too bad. I was able to compete and do every rep."
Butler has missed three consecutive games with an ankle sprain.
"The rehab went really well. I feel like I'm ready to go," Butler said. "I'm real antsy to get out there, but I'm glad I waited because rushing to get out there would have made it worse in the long run."
Left tackle Michael Oher, who also has missed three games, remains in the concussion protocol, but Rivera said the presence at practice of the other Panthers coming off injury "bodes well."
"And we've got Leonard Johnson who we have to make a decision on Saturday morning. He's looked good in practice," Rivera added in regards to the veteran cornerback who began practicing last week after spending all season on the non-football injury list. "We feel pretty good with that group. We've just got to continue working and get better."
Getting physically healthy is just one part of the equation. Across the board, the Panthers worked on their mental health during the bye week, grinding to get to back the kind of success the team enjoyed last season on its momentous march to the Super Bowl.
"We did a nice job last week going through self-scout," Rivera said. "We walked away from it, saying, 'These are the things we have to get better at, things we have to improve on.'
"I feel good about us coming into this stretch."
View photos of the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against Arizona.