Tom Sorensen

When you go to Panthers minicamp and an impromptu reunion breaks out

When Carolina Panthers players, from left, Julius Peppers, Cam Newton and Captain Munnerlyn walked to the field on Tuesday, it was if I never left.
When Carolina Panthers players, from left, Julius Peppers, Cam Newton and Captain Munnerlyn walked to the field on Tuesday, it was if I never left. AP

I hadn’t been to a Carolina Panthers’ minicamp in two seasons. I figured it could be like starting over. The roster has been amended and adjusted. New players have arrived, and veterans have left. I pull out my roster so I can attach names to numbers.

Three players approach the field a few minutes after 8 a.m. They are Cam Newton, Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn. It’s as if I never left.

“You owe me a drink,” Munnerlyn says.

He bought me a drink in 2013. I thought cornerbacks were supposed to have short memories.

Munnerlyn played his first five seasons with Carolina and the next three with Minnesota. Three months ago the Panthers signed him to a four-year contract.

Peppers played his first eight seasons with the Panthers, and played four seasons for the Chicago Bears and three for the Green Bay Packers. Three months ago he signed a one-year contract with Carolina.

Newton will begin his seventh season for the Panthers, the only team for which he’s played.

Peppers is 6-7, Newton is 6-5 and Munnerlyn isn’t. They joke with each other and smile as they approach the field. Munnerlyn, who is listed at 5-9, is a funny guy, courteous.

But on the field he is intense. He might not be tall, but he plays as if he is. When there’s a skirmish, he feels left out if he isn’t part of it.

In Game 5 of the NBA finals Monday, David West of the Golden State Warriors and Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers stood toe-to-toe and face-to-face. Other players jumped in. I expected one of them to be Munnerlyn.

Munnerlyn doesn’t play football. He goes after it. He’s a player you want on the field, in the locker room and, as long as he’s buying, in your town.

As he signed autographs after practice, I ask him if he mellowed during his time in Minnesota. He doesn’t respond with words. He responds with a look.

Welcome back, Captain.

▪  Unless it’s a coincidence, the Panthers this offseason recruited people who play angry. Munnerlyn is one of them. Safety Mike Adams is another. Receiver Russell Shepard is another. Peppers might be.

Peppers is 37, Adams 36, Munnerlyn 29 (and beginning his ninth season), and Shepard 26. If minicamp has a soundtrack, Adams, Munnerlyn and Shepard help supply the vocals.

Did Carolina lack intense players last season? Need to be careful with this one. Among others, the defense featured Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the offense Cam Newton and Ryan Kalil.

The new/old players the Panthers signed aren’t in town to be meek. They aren’t part of a long rebuilding project. If a team signs players 37 and 36 years old, as well as a nine-year veteran and a five-year veteran (Shepard), the idea is to win now.

The Panthers were especially active this spring in free agency. By their standards, they were hyperactive. Somebody in the organization opened the safe, pulled out the cash decided they have to win now.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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