While the Carolina Panthers are unpacking the creature comforts they have brought from home to their training camp base at Wofford Friday pillows, blankets and flip flops are popular cargo they also bring with them a sense of anticipation.
A year ago, the Panthers hurried into camp after the lockout, introduced themselves to new coach Ron Rivera and his staff then set about reshaping a franchise. Cam Newton was a curiosity. The offense was a work in progress. The expectations were uncertain.
This time, once they settle in and the full team hits the practice fields for the first time Saturday, so much has changed. While center Ryan Kalils published Super Bowl proclamation hangs in the hot summer air, the Panthers are healthy again and unabashedly optimistic.
Training camp begins with a multitude of questions. Here are five of the most important:
Will Cam Newton have a sophomore slump?
No one was quite ready for what Newton did as a rookie. When he passed for 422 in the season opener at Arizona, it was like a thunderbolt.
Newton wound up passing for 4,051 yards, the most ever by a rookie and his 14 rushing touchdowns were the most ever by a quarterback.
As the Panthers struggled to a 2-8 start, the losses were like a weight on Newton. But as the season played out, Newton grew into his role as the team leader on offense and one of the leagues most dynamic talents.
Now comes Newtons second act. Some have pointed to Sam Bradfords second-year struggles in his injury-shortened season at St. Louis as a warning. After passing for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns as a rookie, Bradford had just six touchdown passes in 10 games last season.
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, went 3-13 as a rookie quarterback, completing 56.7 percent of his passes with 28 interception, but then led Indianapolis to a 13-3 record his second season, completing 62.1 percent of his passes with only 15 interceptions.
For Newton, whose national profile has expanded dramatically with his commercial endorsements, training camp marks the next step in his development.
How much will the defense improve?
It needs to improve significantly.
The Panthers ranked 28th in yards allowed per game (377.6), 27th in points allowed (26.8), 26th in third-down efficiency (42.8) and similarly low in virtually every other defensive category.
The loss of linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, and tackle Ron Edwards by the second week of the regular season gutted the middle of the defense, forcing coordinator Sean McDermott to rely on makeshift lineups throughout the season.
Beason, Davis and Edwards are ready to go as training camp begins and the addition of first-round draft choice Luke Kuechly adds to the depth at linebacker.
One key position battle will be at the cornerback spot opposite Chris Gamble where Captain Munnerlyn, rookie Josh Norman and Brandon Hogan are expected fight for the starting job.
Free safety Sherrod Martin is also coming off an inconsistent season and will likely have to fight to retain his starting job.
How big an impact will the rookies have?
They could play big roles this season, starting with Kuechly at linebacker. He was a dominating force in college and he will be on the field immediately with Beason, Davis and James Anderson. Kuechly has a sixth sense that made him a prolific performer at Boston College.
In drafting Arkansass Joe Adams, the Panthers hope to have remedied a special teams issue by adding an explosive punt returner to the roster. Special teams were a huge issue last year both in what they surrendered and in their failure to produce enough big return plays.
Second-round draft choice Amini Silatolu from tiny Midwestern State solidifies the offensive line depth. He has made a strong impression on the staff during offseason workouts and, like Byron Bell last year, could play a big role early.
Is Olindo Mare locked in as the kicker?
From the moment the Panthers released popular John Kasay last year and replaced him with Mare, there was an awkward feel.
Though Mare made 22-of-28 field goal attempts, it didnt help that he missed a couple of crucial ones, including a 31-yard in a 24-21 loss to Minnesota that would have forced overtime.
The Panthers brought in Adi Kunalic in December to compete with Mare for the job which Mare kept. Kunalic is gone now but the Panthers signed free agent Justin Medlock to compete with Mare in training camp.
Though Medlock attempted just two field goals in 2007 for Kansas City, he has had a successful career in the Canadian Football League where he made 49 of 55 field goals last year for Hamilton.
Are Armanti Edwards days numbered?
After two underwhelming seasons, the former Appalachian State star needs to have a big training camp if he is going to stick with the Panthers.
Edwards started strong in Spartanburg last year, but had little impact in the regular season. As a receiver, he didnt catch a pass last year and his punt return average of 5.5 yards with a long return of 17 yards factored into the decision to draft of Joe Adams.
When you do the math at receiver where Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Seyi Ajirotutu, Louis Murphy, Kealoha Pilares and Darvin Adams are in the mix for, likely, six roster spots, the Edwards experiment may be nearing a final decision.