CHARLOTTE — There's been a lot of change since Kawann Short's last game on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.
On that night — a Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers — Short suffered a partially torn rotator cuff that kept him out for the remainder of the season.
Nearly 11 months later, the Panthers have a new coaching staff, and many of Short's longtime teammates are elsewhere.
On a virtual press conference Sunday afternoon, a reporter pointed out to the eighth-year defensive tackle that he's the lone remaining captain from the five who opened up last season.
"It's a business," Short replied. "Whether those guys went to a different team or they're not playing anymore, I still consider those guys a captain in life. And whatever they're going to do in life, I feel they're going to be ahead of the curve in knowing they can conquer anything they take on."
But as Short said, life moves on. And for him, that meant concentrating on returning to health during the offseason.
After missing just two games in his first six-plus seasons, last year was Short's first experience with a long-term injury. That meant the entire rehab experience was new for him.
"You see a lot of guys who get injured and miss so many weeks. But when it happens to yourself for the first time, you don't know what to expect," Short said. "So as that got on, I had some scares where I thought my shoulder wasn't healing right. I felt like it wasn't in the right direction; it wasn't at a certain percentage at a certain time."
But after fighting through those initial doubts, Short on Sunday declared his shoulder repair an "awesome success."
"I feel good," Short said. "I'm still working on little things as far as just getting a range of motion. But other than that, I feel good."
The pandemic did force Short to shift some elements in his rehab process. But there were some silver linings, as he incorporated some exercises that got him down to 315 pounds.
"I got a Peloton and was riding the bike," Short said. "Just being outside in the heat, which made it a lot more secure for me to just get out and shed some pounds and sweat a little more. And just being able to do a lot more things — getting in the pool, working the arm movements. It was definitely one of those things that you had to just reinvent to just see stuff outside of the facility."
Having Short back should be a significant boost to the defense, both from a playing and leadership standpoint. The unit suffered without Short in the middle of the line last season, surrendering a league-worst 5.2 yards per carry. Linebacker Shaq Thompson called Short, "a tremendous help to this defense."
"For the defense, for the organization ... we love to have KK back," Thompson said.
One of the players who should really benefit from Short's presence is first-round pick, Derrick Brown. While Short is often soft-spoken, the 31-year-old understands his responsibility as both the oldest and longest-tenured player on the Panthers' defense.
"I'm the type of guy that tries to lead by example, and now going into that eighth season and really being a vet around here now, I have to step up and lead vocally," Short said. "So just showing Derrick and all those guys what I've done to put myself in position, and what they can do to help me, what I can do to help them — we've just got to work together."
One of the reasons the Panthers drafted Brown is they believe he can play inside and outside. Short may be asked to do the same by a coaching staff that has emphasized position flexibility many times over the past few months.
"Whatever they want me to play, I'm there," Short said. "I've got to know all the positions on the defensive line. I've got to know what every guy does on every play. So just being available when the play is called and they tell me to bump out — I've got to bump out and know what I'm doing. So everybody on that defensive line has got to know every position on the defensive line."
There's still over a month before the Panthers line up against the Raiders on Sept. 13. But after a season of watching followed by an offseason of change, Short is eager to get back to doing what he does best.
"I'm not in a rush to just go out there and kill it," Short said, "but I am in a rush to just go out there and just play football."
View photos of the Panthers' rookie class lifting weights and going through a walk-through on Thursday afternoon.