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Rivera labels offseason program a success

CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera occasionally questioned his team's effort and execution over the final month of the offseason workout program, but he had no such questions in the final analysis.

"We had what I thought amounted to 12 really good practices," Rivera said Thursday after the Panthers' minicamp to close the offseason came to an end. "I'm very pleased with what we got from our guys. I thought there were a lot of positives and pluses.

"When you're returning the core of your team and you see them pick up where they left off in terms knowing what's going to happen and making plays the way they did, you feel good about things."

The Panthers spent three days a week on the practice field over the last four weeks, enjoying nearly 100 percent participation during nine optional organized team activities over the first three weeks before wrapping it up with three mandatory practices.

"We've done a good job with what you can accomplish just in helmets. We've seen where guys are," center Ryan Kalil said. "It was a chance to dust off the cobwebs and get back at it. It was also part of our conditioning, too."

In addition to getting back in shape physically, the nine-week offseason program that the Panthers pared to eight weeks coming off their long Super Bowl run also tested the team mentally. There was the classroom time typical of this time of year, but Rivera also tested his team's mental toughness coming off such a successful season.

The Panthers are trying to become the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to return to the Super Bowl one year after losing the big game.

"I've tried to figure out why teams that went to the Super Bowl weren't as successful as they wanted to be, and they struggled to get back. The one thing I found was that people talked about not being complacent, about not letting some things slip and slide," Rivera said. "I've tried to take that away and make sure we have a sense of urgency.

"The season is coming fast. I wanted to make sure the guys understood the significance of what we're doing here and now. Going into training camp, I'll continue to push it."

In addition to pounding home that message at practice, Rivera gathered the team for one final meeting before the final practice to hammer it home again.

When the practice ended, players headed their separate ways for a five-week hiatus before training camp, but Kalil doesn't consider it a summer vacation.

"We'll get a little break here, but guys would be wrong to think this is a part of the offseason," he said. "I think the offseason is after the season. This time in between minicamp and training camp, guys need to go home and train."

Rivera and other team leaders expressed confidence that the Panthers will be ready to roll come training camp, buoyed by the momentum created by another successful offseason.

"I think we're in a good position. I think we've had a good offseason," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We've gotten the work in that's required this time of year, and it all just leads to the next stage at training camp.

"We'll get a little time off, get ready for training camp, and then things will pick up to even another level."

View photos from Thursday's mandatory practice.

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