CHARLOTTE — This Panthers training camp is different.
Everything is housed at Bank of America Stadium. The roster is at 80 players. Players, coaches, and team personnel must wear tracking devices while at the facility.
A lot has been done to make everyone as safe as possible during the COVID-19-pandemic.
Players had to test negative for the virus three times just to get into the building to take a physical. The Panthers' process has gone well enough that no player has been placed on the club's reserve/COVID-19 list as of Sunday afternoon. All players are now able to take their physicals and be present at the stadium for team activities.
The lead up to players reporting appeared complicated from afar, with the league and players' association going through multiple rounds of negotiations for health and safety. Linebacker Shaq Thompson said that the toughest part was trying to figure out what the schedule would be.
"Just trying to figure out what's going to happen next, when's the next thing that's going to happen," Thompson said. "Trying to be on the right page with the organization and just trying to mix and match with the NFL."
For defensive tackle Kawann Short, things have felt like a whirlwind as he gets back in the building with his teammates after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury.
"The process is crazy," Short said. "I mean, as soon as you get out of the car you have to do a test. You can't really get in the parking lot without a mask. Hand sanitizers everywhere. Then after that, before you get to the door, you have to fill out a survey and have another temperature check. We have these monitors where you can't get too close to anybody.
"It was overwhelming, but it's the right thing to do."
Short then pointed to something as simple as using the hot tubs as an example of players needing to be more cautious.
"You've got to know everybody's trying to do everything but can't be in a certain spot at the same time," Short said. "So that's in coming in early, getting extra treatment, or trying to beat the curve of a lot of guys coming in right before practice."
Players do have the ability to opt-out of the season. One player, undrafted rookie linebacker Jordan Mack, did so last week. And Short figures every player in the league has thought about it, including him.
"We all have our reasons why or why not," Short said. "I respect those guys who did, and I respect those guys who didn't."
Now that he's back in the building, Thompson is starting to feel a sense of normalcy. But there is the constant reminder of tracking devices, which light up if they get within six feet of another person. Those devices will also aid in contact tracing, should a positive COVID-19 test occur.
"I feel like you can still do the same things you did before," Thompson said. "You can still talk to your friends, talk to your brothers and talk ball. You've just got to do it from six feet (apart)."
But because the NFL is not conducting training camps or the season in a bubble, players, coaches, and staff have to be as responsible as possible when outside the facility.
"You can't be selfish during this time. You've got to think about other guys and their families, and their health issues, or whatever they have going on," Thompson said. "You've just got to be smart about that, especially the young and single guys who want to go have fun and stuff like that. That stuff has to wait, wait until next year, or wait until we figure out COVID.
"Right now, during the season, if you want to play, you've got to be smart and just think about other people instead of yourself."
Making smart choices and protecting teammates has already been a consistent message for players on the Panthers and throughout the league. But Thompson said if needed, he and other veteran leaders will make sure younger players adhere to the guidelines.
"We've already talked about it in team meetings and stuff like that," Thompson said. "Guys here have done a great job of just staying away and doing all that. So I think they've got it. I think they're all professional. We've got some intelligent rookies who are smart, so I think they've got it down."
View photos of the Panthers' rookie class lifting weights and going through a walk-through on Thursday afternoon.