SPARTANBURG, S.C. - For free agent acquisitions Omar Gaither and Olindo Mare and for undrafted free agent Kendric Burney, the opportunity to join the Panthers family is like coming home.
And for trade acquisition Greg Olsen, Carolina feels like home even though he had never before set foot in Charlotte.
While Gaither, Mare and Burney all have lived in North Carolina, it sounds like Olsen has lived for an opportunity to join the Panthers.
Early Wednesday, Olsen checked into his dorm at Chicago Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and took his physical. Later in the day, the tight end was traded to the Panthers and soon headed to Wofford College.
"Coming out for the draft (in 2007), this is a place that I had hoped to end up. It's funny how things go," Olsen said. "I think it's a great fit system-wise and personality-wise.
"I'm excited to be here in Charlotte. I've never been here before, but I've heard awesome things about it. I'm just excited to be a part of the community and get rolling here and win a lot of games."
The move unites Olsen - who has racked up 194 catches for 1,981 yards and 20 touchdowns in four NFL seasons - with a pair of his University of Miami colleagues. Olsen, fellow tight end Jeremy Shockey and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski all played tight end for the Hurricanes, and Olsen was a player at Miami for one year of Chudzinski's coaching tenure there.
The ties that bind are even stronger for Gaither. The linebacker grew up in Charlotte and attended Myers Park High School, and after five seasons with Philadelphia, the Eagle has landed back home.
"As crazy as it might sound, I was an Eagle at heart, but I still always rooted for Carolina," Gaither said. "I was in Philly for five years, and that was a great experience, but I've always dreamed of coming home. I've always wanted to wear that black and teal, since I saw Sam Mills wearing it when I was coming up.
"It's great to be back. I feel at home already."
Adding to the familiar feeling for Gaither is the presence of defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who was on the Eagles' staff throughout Gaither's tenure.
"I joked with Coach McDermott on his last day in Philly that if he needed a place to stay, my mom had a twin bed for him," Gaither said.
Mare already has a place to lay his head as well, but for different reasons. The former Seattle Seahawks kicker has lived in Mooresville - about 30 minutes north of Charlotte - for the last five years.
"I'm from South Florida and my wife is from New York, so it's 11 hours each way," Mare said. "It's going to be great to play at home."
Then there's the case of Burney, a cornerback who played at North Carolina and has lived in the state his entire life. Burney was projected to be picked in the April draft - possibly as early as the fourth round - but instead signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Panthers earlier in the week.
"When I got the phone call asking me to join the Panthers, I smiled big-time and I said, 'Well, God worked out a way for me to get here,'" Burney said. "Having the opportunity to sign with the Panthers and try to make this team is a blessing. The only thing I can do is just work hard and hope for the best."
SCINTILLATING START: Approximately 7,000 fans showed up for the opening practice and the Back to Football Party held Saturday evening at Gibbs Stadium.
The crowd gave an enthusiastic welcome to No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton. A couple of fans sported Newton's newly minted No. 1 jersey, and Newton ran across to the home side of the stadium to sign as many autographs as he could following practice.
During the practice, second-year wide receiver Armanti Edwards helped boost the energy with a spectacular catch on a deep ball from Newton and a leaping catch across the middle on a Jimmy Clausen throw.
"I think it was great. It was great to have our fans out and cheering us on," first-year head coach Ron Rivera said. "There was a little excitement on a couple of big plays from our guys. It was great to feel the energy, the electricity. That's what we need. We need to get back to some positive football and give our fans a reason to cheer. I was excited about that."
OPENING DELAY: Newton snuck behind a television camera during Mare's press conference Friday, asking the kicker what he thought about the blazing heat.
"I didn't think it was that bad from where I was standing underneath the cabana in the shade," Mare joked. "I wasn't allowed to practice, but I did see a lot of guys running around sweating."
Per NFL rules, free agents who have been signed since the League's new collective bargaining agreement went into effect can't practice until the new League year officially begins Thursday, forcing about a dozen Panthers out of action.
It impacted new arrivals like Mare and Gaither as well as re-signed free agents like running back DeAngelo Williams and defensive end Charles Johnson.
"I wish they could get that done so we can get back on the field. I feel kind of bad not practicing while everybody else is going to be practicing," Johnson said. "I am kind of itching to get going - the sooner, the better."
SECOND TIME AROUND: Second-year wide receiver David Gettis likened arriving at training camp to the first day of school, but it's not his first rodeo.
"The experience of being here before, of doing this before, of being in this dorm before and going through all these things before - going into it knowing what's going to happen helps," said Gettis, who caught 37 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. "It should keep me a little more relaxed, but football is football. If you don't get the job done, they'll find somebody else who will."
ROSTER ROUNDUP: The Panthers' roster now features 87 players following the re-signing of cornerback C.J. Wilson and the addition of three more undrafted free agents: Malcolm Tatum, a, 6-4, 253-pound defensive end out of Louisville; UNLV center John Giannioto (6-4, 295); and Illinois punter Anthony Santella (6-2, 190).
SUNDAY SCHEDULE: The Panthers will hold two practices at Wofford on Sunday for the only time during training camp – at 10:45 a.m. and 6 p.m.
In conjunction with the evening practice, Family Fun Day is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. The event will include appearances by the TopCats and Sir Purr, face painting and the popular Kids Combine, a series of football drill stations designed to promote physical fitness through the NFL's Play 60 program.