CHARLOTTE – After spending months trying to show NFL teams what they could bring to the table, the rookies handpicked by the Panthers started the process of proving themselves all over again Friday at the first day of the team's rookie minicamp.
"It's surreal," said former Louisiana State guard Trai Turner, the Panthers' third-round draft choice. "I was just with these coaches like two months ago, and they were saying, 'We like you. Maybe you can help us out.' And now I'm here, attempting to help out.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity. Now it's up to me and what I do with it."
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' first-round draft selection, said the things he did to audition for teams leading up to the draft didn't always feel like football. The feeling was different Friday, when he shared the practice field with his five fellow draft picks, nine undrafted rookie free agents, six veterans and 35 tryout players.
"I wasn't a big believer in the combine and pro days, but it feels really good to be back to playing the game you love," Benjamin said. "It's great coming out here and getting coached up and going over the plays. We're getting used to the playbook so that when the veterans come back, we can show what we've got."
Benjamin, who helped Florida State win the national championship last season, said his transition will be helped by the similarities between what the Seminoles and the Panthers do on offense.
"When they were calling the routes, I was thinking, 'Oh yes, I ran this,'" Benjamin said. "That allows me to come out of the cut real fast."
Defensive end Kony Ealy, the Panthers' second-round pick from Missouri, admitted that it took him a few minutes to get back up to speed on the field. But off the field, he was able to keep pace right away.
"I had to get my legs under me – it was kind of like I had sea legs – but after 30 minutes or so, I adapted well," Ealy said. "I'm really focusing on learning the playbook. When you know what you're doing, you can do anything out on the field."
Even with everything being thrown at him, Ealy was able to take a minute to appreciate the gravity of the moment.
"I love the atmosphere," he said. "The coaches are great, and the city is amazing. The people here are really nice.
"I had a blast – my first NFL practice."