- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - With a new coaching staff and now Cam Newton on board as the No. 1 overall draft pick, perhaps no team benefits more from the possibly temporary end to the lockout than the Carolina Panthers.

At least a dozen players took immediate advantage Friday morning when the NFL reopened for business, gathering for a voluntary meeting and collecting playbooks from coach Ron Rivera.

“We want to play football, we really do,” center Ryan Kalil said from the parking lot at Bank of America Stadium. “It’s nice that we finally have a chance to come back in here and talk with some of the coaches and just get the band back together again, you know?”

Perhaps it was no surprise Jimmy Clausen was among the first players to arrive at dawn on Friday. Clausen’s job as the starting QB is in jeopardy after Carolina selected Newton, the Heisman Trophy-winning former Auburn star, with the first pick a night earlier.

Fellow QBs Tony Pike and Matt Moore, who is unsigned and recovering from a shoulder injury, also showed up.

“It’s a little weird to be back here,” Moore said.

There was no sign of receiver Steve Smith, whose future with the team is uncertain. But others quickly got into a routine in an offseason devoid of it.

Guard Duke Robinson, suspended for the final four games last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, was an early arrival. Linebacker Dan Connor, recovering from a broken hip, was spotted working out in a weight room.

“It’s not just a legal move to get the doors open,” Kalil said. “It’s a place for guys to get treatment, to work out. A lot of guys really do need direction.”

After little progress was made toward a new labor deal, the owners locked out the players last month. A judge in Minnesota earlier this week granted an injunction to end the lockout, which the owners are appealing.

Until there’s a ruling, the NFL was forced to put rules in place that allowed for players to show up at team facilities Friday morning. That helps teams with new coaching staffs such as the Panthers, who are scrambling to make up for lost time in putting in a new system.

“It’ll be nice to come in and be able to talk to the coaches a little bit and really get a glance at the playbook and try to get a head start,” Kalil said. “We definitely need all the work we can get going into this season.”

How long this will last is uncertain. The NFL has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout, hoping for a friendlier venue than the federal courts in Minnesota.

If the lockout remains lifted, the Panthers could beef up workouts, with a minicamp possible as soon as next weekend.

“We’ll meet over the weekend and discuss when our minicamps would be if that’s how it goes,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “But right now there’s so much uncertainty it’s sort of one day at a time.”

Despite recent wins by the players in the courts, Kalil remained cautious on how the rest of the labor dispute will unfold.

“I think this thing is far from over,” Kalil said. “I don’t know how you measure victories or losses in this thing. I think the biggest thing is to try to make sure football continues on. Obviously, financially this is a big deal to come back to work. This is what we do, and the offseason is a crucial part of it.”