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Rain fails to dampen Panthers' optimism

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers wrapped up their final OTA session on Thursday in a steady rain, but as is likely the case for other teams, optimism about the work put in the past three weeks reigned supreme.

"I'm seeing some things that give me reason to be happy and excited about what we can be as a football team," coach Ron Rivera said after the team's final workout. "We got through all the installations that we planned, and we went through some situational football. We seemed to pick things up well."

While the Panthers began their voluntary OTAs with perfect attendance, that slacked off the past couple weeks with the absence of Greg Hardy. The defensive end wasn't at Thursday's practice, and he was also missing from the May 30 session that was open to the media.

After a breakout season in 2012, Hardy is looking for a contract extension, but it's unclear if that relates to his absence. For his part, Rivera at least made it sound like he's OK with Hardy taking "personal time."

"Remember, this is all voluntary," Rivera said. "But when he's here, he's doing everything hard and doing it the right way. So I'm pretty excited about that."

Rivera was also excited to get his two Pro Bowl offensive lineman back this week. Tackle Jordan Gross, who is coming off ankle surgery, and center Ryan Kalil, who underwent foot surgery, slowly worked their way back into team drills.

Jon Beason is also coming along well in his recovery from ankle and shoulder surgeries. The linebackers even are a little bit ahead of schedule.

"At this point, I couldn't be more happy with it," Beason said. "We're going to work in (team drills) a little bit in minicamp. Training camp was the goal, but it's feeling so good they're going to let me work in a little bit, so I'm excited about next week."

Running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (abdominal strain) spent most of their OTAs on exercise bikes on the sideline, and it's unlikely they'll do much work in next week's mandatory minicamp.

But even if it is just the typical optimism every coach claims to have at this point in the year, the third-year coach may have his team on a pretty good track.

"The biggest thing is we went through the 10 installations we had planned, we went through situation football (during OTAs). We seemed to pick that up pretty well, so I'm excited to see how things go during minicamp," Rivera said. "Minicamp will really be about execution. All the installations are in, we've gone through all the things we wanted to go through. Now we give the guys a chance to go fast and see how they do."

--Ten OTAs didn't do a whole lot to clear up the Panthers' murky situation in the secondary. Not surprisingly, Rivera confirmed that free safety Charles Godfrey is the only player in the unit to have a starting job locked up. The other spots will be up for grabs at least through the start of training camp.

While the defensive backfield is certainly the Panthers' biggest potential trouble spot, Rivera continues to claim they'll be better than many expect back there.

"The improvement we made at defensive line, I think that's big for us. And I do think bringing Drayton (Florence) in and bringing D.J. (Moore) in gives us some guys with some veteran experience, and I think that can be passed onto the young guys," Rivera said.

Florence and Moore were signed as free agents this offseason, and they'll join a cornerback battle that includes Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Thomas, Josh Norman and James Dockery.

Meanwhile, at strong safety, free agent addition Mike Mitchell will contend with D.J. Campbell and Haruki Nakamura to decide who will start alongside Godfrey.
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