SPARTANBURG, S.C. – "The thing going into this training camp is that as far as I'm concerned, we're the hunted," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We are were a lot of people want to be, so as far as we're concerned as a football team, we have to take care of business and do things the right way. I'm excited about that. We've got to hold ourselves as accountable as a football team."
Rivera's team reported to training camp Wednesday, on the eve of the Panthers' first practice. Here are some thoughts from Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman before things get underway.
HEAD COACH RON RIVERA
On being the hunted after winning the NFC Championship: "Everybody is 0-0, but sometimes your reputation is going to proceed itself. That's where we are now. People are going to look at us and say, 'Last year they were this. Last year they were that.' The truth of the matter is that they're going to approach us a little bit different than they have in the past. That's just a function of the success we've had. We have to understand that that's exactly what we're going to get. We're not going to be able to show up and take anybody for granted. We're going to get their best, and we have to prepare like that."
On the team building process: "We have the core for the most part. We're returning all five offensive linemen. We're returning the bulk of our defensive line, our linebacking cores. That's great, but you still have to work on and develop that rapport because what we're going to have in that locker room is going to be vastly different. We have to make sure we create the 2016 version. You can't use the 2015 version; it ain't going to work."
On conditioning tests earlier Wednesday: "Everybody worked out very nicely. I was very pleased. I watched some people specifically – watched Kelvin (Benjamin). Real pleased with what I saw. Stephen Hill moved around real well. That was good to see because of what they went through."
On timetable for Bene Benwikere's return from his ankle injury: "I don't want to say he'll be back in a week. It's about how he's coming along, how he's progressing. We're trying to make sure we prevent a setback."
On Kawann Short's contract situation: "I'm confident that we're going to try, that they're going to try. We're trying to do something that's going to benefit and the young man. We'll see what happens. They're going to put their best foot forward, and we're going to put our best, and we'll see what happens and hopefully it is positive."
On reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton: "His game can continue to grow, and he can continue to get better. He's the type of football player whose skill set and what he can do as a football player almost seems unlimited at times. As we continue to evolve on the offensive side and he continues to grow and learn, we can continue to become more dynamic. … For the things that he does, to expect him to do more, people say, 'Oh, you're crazy.' But with him, there always has to be that carrot, always has to be that challenge. Can he get better? I really think so."
GENERAL MANAGER DAVE GETTLEMAN
On the plan with Benewikere, fellow cornerback Leonard Johnson not practicing: "The three young kids and Lou Young got a ton of reps during OTAs, and it's going to continue. You can't get better watching. You've got to be between the white lines."
On his excitement regarding Benjamin's return: "Oh my Lord. You know, we are all excited. Obviously, he gave us a taste of where he was going last year with the first couple weeks of camp and the game against Buffalo in the preseason. He's a huge presence. He's the real deal, we all know that. We're going to run the twin towers out there with Greg Olsen – you're running some big people out there. It helps."
On Short contract situation: "We're in conversation, and as long as you're in conversation, something good can happen. I've said it to you guys before, contracts get done when they're supposed to."
On Kurt Coleman's contract extension: "We talk about fit all the time, and one of the things we work hard at is bringing guys in that fit our scheme. And Kurt is a great fit for us. He's a pro's pro. Obviously, he had a career year last year. He did everything we asked. He adds a veteran presence to the DB room, which is important. We worked really hard at it – both sides – and we're really thrilled that he's here long term."
On the lack of offseason departures in the coaching staff: "It's huge. That kind of continuity is just so important. Why is football so difficult? It's because you have 63 players and there are so many moving parts. Well, look at your coaching staff. You've got 17 coaches, and that's a ton of moving parts. I mean, I'm shocked. I'm absolutely shocked that we lost nobody. And I'm very selfishly thrilled."
On expectations for Newton: "For him to continue to grow. Cam, he's a special talent. We all know that. To deny that you'd have brain damage. He gets it, he understands the responsibilities. Last year was not a mirage. I cannot emphasize this enough: It's really important to him. The kid is a tremendous competitor, and at the end of the day, all he wants to do is win."