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Players hit the ground running ... and lifting

CHARLOTTE - To second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly, the most important aspect of the early stages of offseason workouts is connecting with his teammates.

To veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, a newcomer to the Panthers, the most important part at this point is learning a new defense.

Ask more players, and you'll likely get more answers – all of them correct.

"Everything is important about this," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said. "Spending time around the guys and getting to know them, building camaraderie, being in the classroom, self-scouting ourselves and finding ways we can improve and get better - that's what it's all about."

The process of preparing for the 2013 season reached a new stage Monday, when virtually the entire roster showed up for the beginning of the NFL's offseason workout program – a voluntary nine-week period for veterans aside from a mandatory minicamp in June.

"It's exciting to have the guys here," head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday. "We've had great attendance. Our first day we had two guys who couldn't make it, and then yesterday we had just one. We've got great participation now, and that's been awesome because it's voluntary. Having this type of turnout has been great."

Kuechly, along with quarterback Cam Newton, are taking part after spending much of their time since last season attending classes in pursuit of their college degrees. While Newton may have to miss a small portion of the workouts because Auburn's spring semester isn't yet complete, Kuechly will be able to finish up his classwork in Charlotte.

"I've got a couple of papers and exams that I've got to finish up, but I can do that down here," Kuechly said. "It was good to be back with my friends, but it was a lot different because they had such different schedules than me – practice, workouts, meetings."

Now, Kuechly is the one returning to a football-focused schedule. He returned Friday from Boston College, three days before the Boston Marathon tragedy.

"When I saw it had happened, it was like, 'Whoa,'" Kuechly said. "I understand that everyone from B.C. that ran in it is fine. All my friends are fine. Most students are at the school for it because it runs right past campus, so not that many people go downtown for it.

"It's unfortunate. Let's hope they figure out what happened."

Kuechly is now trying to get back to business, which in his case means helping find ways to further improve a Panthers defense that improved to a No. 10 ranking during his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign.

One way to continue trending upwards is the addition of players like Florence, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons who said he opted to sign with the Panthers because of the potential he sees in Carolina.

"The defense finished 10th in the league, and you've got a quarterback that can make a lot of plays with his arms and his feet," Florence said. "With those dynamics here already, I thought it would be a good fit for me and that I could come here and compete for a playoff spot."

That's also a big part of the reason that players like Edwards and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who became unrestricted free agents following last season, are back in the fold for 2013.

"I definitely like the makeup of our team," Edwards said. "It's always good to add new talent and to have competition between guys. That's only going to make us better.

"We finished well last year, and we have some unfinished business to take care of this year."

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