CHARLOTTE – Training camp officially begins Friday, but it has already started unofficially for the youngest members of the Panthers roster. About 25 players, a combination of rookies and first-year players, got a head start on camp Monday and Tuesday at the Bank of America Stadium practice fields.
"We're getting back in football mode," rookie running back Kenjon Barner said. "That's crucial."
Head coach Ron Rivera said the minicamp of sorts will allow those new to the NFL and new to Carolina's system to hit the ground running when the entire roster takes to the field at Wofford College on Friday for the first training camp practice.
"It's a chance for these guys to get geared up," Rivera said. "We went through how we would install something from our playbook at training camp, and we did some of the basic workouts and fundamentals that we'll use when we get to training camp.
"We want to make sure these guys understand what it takes so that when the rest of the team gets together on Friday, we're ready to go."
Temperatures were in the mid-80s during the hour the players spent on the field Tuesday, a tame version of what they'll experience if the weather at Wofford follows its typical form.
"We're getting acclimated to the heat, but I understand that Spartanburg is going to be real hot," rookie defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "Coming from Indiana, it's not like this, so these two days will help.
"We had a couple of weeks off, and as rookies it would be easy for our minds to wander off. Bringing us back early has reminded us that we're here for a purpose."
Rivera's purpose for bringing his young players out early was twofold.
"First and foremost, it was an opportunity for the players to come in and get re-acclimated to us and for us to get re-acclimated to them," he said. "It also gives us an opportunity to see where they are both physically and mentally, to see how they retained what we taught them during OTAs and minicamp, and to see whether they're in shape. Those things are very important.
"I'm very happy. You see that these guys did retain a lot, that they did go home and stay in the playbook. Also for the most part, guys stayed in shape. There are a couple of guys I'm a little concerned with, and it will show when we do our conditioning test Thursday afternoon and at the first couple of practices."
Short, the Panthers' second-round draft pick, is looking forward to the kickoff of camp. A few days in, the rookies will get their first chance to wear pads and really trade blows with their new teammates.
"I'm excited to get back to playing football. I'm blessed to have this opportunity to compete with the vets and help us win and be the best we can be," Short said. "We're coming out to compete with vets. We're trying to make each other better and be the best defense in the NFL."
QUICK HITTERS: Wide receiver Lamont Bryant, who spent his rookie season on the Panthers' practice squad, watched Tuesday's workout but wasn't able to participate after being placed on the non-football injury list Monday. Bryant is recovering from a strained hamstring but still counts toward the 90-man roster and will be evaluated on a daily basis, Rivera said. … The roster stands at 89 players after the team waived former Clemson offensive lineman Thomas Austin on Monday. The Panthers could fill the roster spot in time for camp. … Players will report to Wofford on Thursday in anticipation of Friday's 6:15 p.m. practice. Fans are invited to the annual Back to Football Party that will begin at 4:30 p.m. that day at Gibbs Stadium.