SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers arrived at training camp Thursday filled with optimism, perhaps no one more so than fifth-year defensive end Mario Addison.
Addison predicted Carolina is Super Bowl bound this season coming off back-to-back NFC South division titles.
“There ain’t no limits — we’re going all the way,” Addison said after checking into his dorm room at Wofford College. “We have all the tools and all we have to do is put it together. I see a Super Bowl. I feel it, man.”
The Panthers begin practice Friday.
Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, who has never been one for making predictions or flamboyant statements, tempered Addison’s enthusiasm — but only a little.
“Would I be surprised if we did? No,” Olsen said. “But do we have a ton or work that needs to go in and ton of things to fall into place before we put ourselves in a position to accomplish those type of things? Yes.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera arrived at training camp with a heavy heart.
Rivera said he’ll miss practice Saturday and Sunday to attend his brother’s funeral in Reno, Nevada. Mickey Rivera, 56, passed away on Tuesday after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Assistant coach Steve Wilks will run practice in Rivera’s absence.
Rivera called his brother an “inspiration.”
“My brother never complained,” Rivera said. “He just went out and worked hard. When you talk to somebody who is in a situation like he was (with cancer) and they just keep doing the best they can, you do draw inspiration.”
Addison said he believes the Panthers are better at every position and have the right attitude and focus entering three-plus weeks of practices in the hot South Carolina sun.
“We have our mind set that this is what we want, and this is what we’re going to get,” Addison said. “Everybody is on the same page… We’re going to the Super Bowl, man. If you speak on it, it will happen.”
Well, not always.
In 2012, center Ryan Kalil took out a full page advertisement in the Charlotte Observer before the season predicting the Panthers would win their first Super Bowl. Kalil injured his foot early in the season the Panthers failed to reach the playoffs that season.
Rivera said he had no problem with Addison’s comments, joking “as long as he doesn’t put it in the paper.”
The Panthers have reason to be optimistic.
Outside of the expected release of 32-year-old running back DeAngelo Williams, Carolina didn’t lose any key players from last season’s team that won five of its final six games.
The Panthers added veteran cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Chris Houston and safety Kurt Coleman to the mix via free agency. They’ve also replaced left tackle Byron Bell with Michael Oher and brought back Ted Ginn Jr., a big contributor during a 12-4 season in 2013.
Although quarterback Cam Newton continues to improve with each passing season, the strength of the team remains its defense.
The Panthers have finished in the top 10 in the league the past three seasons and Tillman believes they’ll only get better this year.
“There is no ceiling for this group,” said Tillman, who arrived at training camp only after his flight from Chicago had to make an emergency landing in Indianapolis due to a fuel leak.
Other news around the team as the Panthers reported for camp:
— Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman confirmed backup offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is retiring following a back injury. Rivera said Amini Silatolu and rookie Darryl Williams could see practice time as the second-team left tackle behind Oher.
— Gettleman said wide receiver Stephen Hill was “remorseful” when he spoke to him about a citation Hill received this week for possession of drug paraphernalia. Rivera said Hill’s legal problems shouldn’t hamper his chances of making the team, saying Hill made a mistake. Hill is considered to be on the roster bubble.
— The Panthers have indicated they’d like to reach a long-term deal with former NFL defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly before the season, but the middle linebacker said he’s “not all that concerned” about ongoing contracts talks and expects to remain with Carolina. The Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on Kuechly’s rookie deal, so he’s under contract through 2016.
— Brandon Williams (groin), a third-string tight end, has been placed on the active-PUP list.
— Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s top wide receiver last season, said Thursday he’s “100 percent” recovered from pulled hamstrings in both legs that kept him out of almost all of the team’s offseason practices. He also said he’s lost weight, returning to his playing weight from last season.