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Panthers beginning two weeks of players-only workouts

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Perhaps no team is in need of offseason practices more than the Carolina Panthers. After falling behind their division rivals, the Panthers finally gathered Tuesday for their first player-organized workout since the lockout began.

The team that finished an NFL-worst 2-14 in 2010 also did its best to make sure no one saw them.

Players hired a police officer to shoo away reporters from the high school where they were working out on the hot, humid morning. Cones blocked another entrance to the field at Charlotte Christian.

Guard Geoff Schwartz indicated on Twitter that more than 50 players attended.

"Great morning of team activities," he wrote.

Left tackle Jordan Gross, who organized the two weeks of practices with left guard Travelle Wharton, said reporters wouldn't be allowed in until the last day, June 9, to prevent distractions.

"We're just trying to prepare to win some football games," said Gross, who wouldn't reveal the number of players on hand.

A few dozen high-priced vehicles were seen in the parking lot, but the field was out of view from the road. So there was no way of seeing No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton or fellow quarterback Jimmy Clausen or to get updates on players coming back from injury.

The Panthers were the last team in the NFC South to gather in this odd offseason. The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers already have held player-led workouts.

"It's been so long," running back Jonathan Stewart wrote on his Twitter page. "Time to get better!"

That's for sure. After finishing this past season with the league's worst offense, the Panthers replaced coach John Fox with San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. But the labor dispute has prevented Rivera from gathering his team to learn a new system on both sides of the ball.

Then the Panthers drafted Newton. The Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn could replace Clausen, who went 1-9 as a starter with the NFL's worst passer rating in 2010. Throw in the uncertain status of receiver Steve Smith, who has hedged on whether he wants to return, and the Panthers are stuck in neutral.

Carolina was helped by the one day the lockout was lifted in April, allowing Newton and several players to receive new playbooks from the coaching staff. Linebacker Jon Beason said a couple weeks ago they wanted the workouts to closely resemble normal coach-led offseason practices.

"We're going to try to make it as close as (organized team activities) as possible," Beason said. "Meetings, light practice, light workout, conditioning, the same thing that we would usually do."

But Beason acknowledged the Panthers -- with a new coaching staff, 28 potential free agents and possibly a rookie quarterback -- are affected perhaps more than any other team by the lockout. Beason is expected to attend the next court hearing tied to the labor dispute Friday in St. Louis.

"If you look at a team like Pittsburgh or the Colts, teams that are good consistently, they have that camaraderie, they have that chemistry," Beason said. "That's what I think winning is about. Anytime there's a new system, new coaches, not only do you have to learn scheme and terminology, but also personalities. I think that's important."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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