Veterans help rookies get up to speed

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CHARLOTTE – Rookie defensive tackle Kawann Short flashed impressive speed relative to his size during the Panthers' rookie minicamp, but Short and the rest of the rookies are now dealing with a different type of speed with veteran players in the mix during offseason training activities.

"Everything is extra fast now," Short said. "You have to do everything right and right now."

Short said he's constantly staying in his playbook, "trying to not mess up," but he and the other rookies are getting support from Carolina's returning players along the way.

"I've been having fun being around these guys and am learning from them," Short said. "These guys were in the same position I'm in their first year. It's just a matter of going out there and playing my game and playing hard, and everything will fall into place."

This time last year, linebacker Luke Kuechly walked in Short's shoes. Kuechly simply kept at it through the growing pains, and he emerged to lead the NFL in tackles as a rookie.

"For all our guys that had their first year last year, it's cool to see that we are all more comfortable," Kuechly said. "We're not the new guys, we don't have to learn the whole playbook. We have a general idea of what is going on and can just focus on what we need to work on."

In addition to perfecting their craft, returning players aren't hesitating to help the rookie class get up to speed.

"It's great to see the rookies working with the veteran players," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When you see Steve Smith talking to the young guys, DeAngelo Williams talking to Kenjon Barner, Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil talking to the young offensive linemen, Charles Johnson with the young defensive ends - that's very satisfying.

"It's neat because we have so many veteran guys that have taken over leadership roles. It's carryover from last year when we finished strong. Guys realize we can carry it forward."

Charles Johnson is among those who finished 2012 strong, recording four sacks in the Panthers' final three games – all victories. He's impressed by what he's seen from the Panthers' newest players – so far.

"We'll see when the time comes," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of young, good talent. A lot of guys are showing flashes, but you never really know until training camp starts."

When training camp does start, when live contact is allowed, the rookies will have to get acclimated to yet another gear. But for now, the speed of play at OTAs is fast enough given the learning curve they must face.

"It feels like things have picked up 20 miles an hour," rookie guard Edmund Kugbila said. "I'm learning a lot from watching them. It's a life experience. It's tough. The game speed is a lot faster, but every day you've just got to get better."

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