- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Every now and then during offseason workouts, Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil will get a text from recently retired left tackle Jordan Gross. The message usually is accompanied with a picture from the golf course, the lake or some other fun activity.
"Typical Gross,"Kalil said last week.
What's not typical for Kalil is being in offseason workouts without Gross, wide receiver Steve Smith and others that no longer are a part of the Carolina roster. They have either retired, like Gross, were released, like Smith, or were not re-signed.
As Kalil said, it's strange. It's also accepted.
Parents often go through a period of mourning, otherwise known as empty nest syndrome, when children leave home. Sports fans go through a similar grieving period when star players leave for other teams or retire.
Players don't have that luxury. To spend time debating or agonizing over the loss of a teammate, even if that teammate is a good friend like Gross and Kalil were, is time not spent getting better.
"That's just how it is,"Kalil said. "A lot of players, we joke that if you can cut Peyton Manning you can cut any of us. And it's true. It's part of the business and I don't envy those decisions that they have to make upstairs."
But while it feels strange for Kalil and others to see a room full of new faces during organized team activities, they are focused on moving forward. They are trying to do what it takes to assure the group is in position to become the first to record consecutive winning seasons in team history.
A big part of that is competition. The changes, for better or worse, have created more competition than Kalil can remember in any of his seven seasons at Carolina.
It's something Kalil has embraced and believes will be "really healthy for this team.''
Instead of the complacency that sometimes comes from having veterans back in key positions, the release of a 13-year player like Smith sends the message that no player's future is safe.
"Everybody's trying to make a good impression with coaches, with some of the established guys, and that's something I haven't felt around here in a while that I think is real exciting for this team,"Kalil said.
Kalil saw this initially in the weight room with players "sizing themselves up with other guys and established guys.''
There's not a sense of panic like many fans have expressed since Smith was cut and the team's next three wide receivers were allowed to sign elsewhere.
There's a sense of opportunity for others to step forward. The left tackle position, for example, has created an opportunity for right tackle Byron Bell and right guard Nate Chandler to compete for one of the more high profile jobs on the team.
"He's been busting his butt this offseason," Kalil said of Chandler. "You can tell he's put on some weight just to prepare for that.''
Kalil is excited about the prospects along the line, including the possibility of drafting a tackle with the 28th pick. He also made a plea for the team to re-sign left guard Travelle Wharton, who is contemplating retirement if Carolina's doesn't make an offer.
"I'd be more excited if we had Travelle coming back," Kalil admitted. "I'd feel good about having a young guy next to an older guy like that.
"So if you can write, 'Travelle, Ryan wants to know.' I text him, 'One more year,' and he won't respond back to me. So if you can let him know that I'm waiting for him to return my calls.''
But even Wharton's situation isn't something Kalil wastes a lot of time focusing on. He understands the sense of urgency to begin moving forward with the players on the roster instead of worrying about those that aren't.
So do other veterans such as middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who like Kalil realizes the unfortunate part of the business is you lose friends who are teammates.
"But everyone realizes it's a business and that's how it works,"he said.
Gross understood that when he was a player. But that doesn't keep him from giving Kalil and others a hard time when they're in OTAs and he's having a good time.