CHARLOTTE – It took several weeks for the Panthers offense to get into gear and find its rhythm last season, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula is working to make sure that doesn't happen in 2013.
Shula spoke about the need to start fast as individuals and as a unit shortly after being promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in January, and he reiterated that message after the Panthers concluded minicamp.
"The biggest thing is the mindset of each guy not to wait on anyone else to get our offense jumpstarted," Shula said. "It's about taking it upon yourself to do that.
"We talk about not wasting any play, not wasting any meeting to get better. We try to make things game-like as much as we can in the offseason, even though we are in shorts. But you can build good habits."
In Shula's view, thinking fast translates into playing fast, and that's been a point of emphasis this offseason. The playbook's verbiage has been simplified to help that cause, but it doesn't mean the Panthers are sure to evolve into an up-tempo or no-huddle offense.
"Not necessarily," Shula said. "Execution is the No. 1 thing. How we do it? There are a lot of different ways to get there. We're working on those things.
"But we've got to be sharper and faster thinkers than the teams we're playing."
Shula said quarterback Cam Newton is a player who has improved his understanding of the game. He's also been impressed with Newton's drive for consistency before, during and after plays.
"Cam has made improvements every day," Shula said. "You are not going to be perfect, we all want to be every time we go out on the field, but the important thing at that position is the consistency.
"If things aren't right one play, forget about it, move on to the next one. Help your teammates be better around you. I think Cam has definitely made strides in those aspects."
Several of Newton's offensive teammates are locked in a heated competition to catch his passes.
The wide receiver position is currently a crowded one with free agent signings Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn joining a group of young receivers trying to separate themselves from the pack.
"Guys understand that they have to step up if they are going to make the team – it's just a numbers game," Shula said. "As coaches, you try to create to competition so you get the best out of your players. Now, all these wide receivers that are competing have to take the next step."
Training camp is next, and Shula is eager to see his offensive vision come together when the players put on the pads.
"We are going to be a balanced offense for sure. We can do a lot of things, and we want to present that to the teams we're playing," Shula said. "The ability to establish the mindset that we want will come in training camp. We're looking forward to it."