CHARLOTTE – In many ways, launching the Panthers' voluntary veteran minicamp Tuesday felt like the first day of school.
The usual sights made appearances at the Atrium Health Dome – everything from cheesy grins from players and coaches, new faces mixing with the old, lessons prepared for on-field instruction.
And wide receiver Adam Thielen, a 10-year NFL veteran at his first stop outside the state of Minnesota, walked to practice alongside veteran right tackle Taylor Moton, who has spent all six years of his career at Carolina. It provided an image of the bridge between what the Panthers will bring from last season (a staunch offensive line) and hope to build upon (an experienced pass catcher).
Both flashed smirks while heading into the start of a new regime under new head coach Frank Reich and his new coordinators Thomas Brown and Ejiro Evero, before the drills and installs and in-action bonding commenced.
"I was out there stretching, warming up a little bit before practice, and all I could do was smile," Thielen said. "I'm just excited to be here. And that's not just because I'm at a new place. It's because of the people around me. It's because of my teammates, the coaches, man, like there's so many great coaches and great leaders from the organization. It's just fun to be here. And there's so many reasons for that."
Sure, the vibes around Bank of America Stadium on draft week will naturally be pretty bubbly. They're on the clock in just over 48 hours and will make the first overall draft pick, which Reich said was finalized inside these walls Monday.
But until the Panthers select the newest members of their cast – including their choice of this year's eligible quarterbacks – they have time to start acclimating what they already have to what they're looking to build (See: the teaching part of that school analogy).
Carolina had close to full attendance for the first day of voluntary minicamp, which is a positive. But not yet having your first-round rookie quarterback isn't necessarily a negative, Reich said, since they're all learning a new system. Brown wrapped up designing an all-new playbook just before players reported a couple of weeks ago, anyway.
"It's new to the whole team; it's not just going to be new to the rookie quarterback," Reich said. "We're all kind of starting from the ground floor up. Really, the vets get a couple of weeks ahead of the rookies, but they'll come in and catch up quickly."
A key missing player from Tuesday's minicamp opener was outside linebacker Brian Burns, who had ankle surgery last week but will be back by training camp. He's one of multiple former defensive ends in the Panthers' former scheme that will move to an outside linebacker role in Evero's new 3-4 look – an adjustment that includes a shift to standing up for Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes Sr., and Amaré Barno.
It's worth noting that there were bits of the scheme when Phil Snow was defensive coordinator last season, but this will be mostly new for incumbent players.
It's part of the reason Reich sees this week as "really beneficial" for the veterans who can participate and for players to be excited for what's to come.
"It's a big deal; it's a big transition, particularly for a couple guys," Reich said. "Like Yetur, him moving to outside linebacker, and others. I think EJ and his staff are doing a great job of kind of cutting it piece by piece. So if I'm a player, I can kind of hear it broken down piece by piece, then we kind of put it all together.
"I think EJ has done a great job of that, and his defensive staff. As players, these guys have been playing their whole lives. My experience with this is there's always an element of excitement to learning a new system – to seeing how I can stretch myself as a player and grow as a player. I think that opportunity is there for them."
— Tuesday's practice was part of a voluntary minicamp. A few players were missing, including new tight end Hayden Hurst (again, it's voluntary) and Burns (who had ankle surgery last week).
With some players recovering from offseason surgeries, there were also some new looks in the lineup.
Staring guards Brady Christensen and Austin Corbett weren't practicing after their Week 18 injuries, so veteran free agent pickup Justin McCray and Cade Mays were working as the starting guards during the non-padded, non-contact practices.
Other players on the premises but not participating included cornerbacks Donte Jackson and CJ Henderson and wide receiver DJ Chark.
— Second-year quarterback Matt Corral was on the field and participating after missing all last season with a Lisfranc injury sustained during a preseason game at New England.
Corral worked behind Andy Dalton and ahead of Jacob Eason in the three-quarterback rotation. New QBs coach Josh McCown stood in with them as they warmed up, so there would be an even number of throwers.
View photos of Panthers players during the first day of veteran voluntary minicamp.