SPARTANBURG -- When linebacker Jon Beason walked onto a training camp field for the first time at 8:41 a.m. Monday, the gloves he carried were so fresh-out-of-the-box the fingers stood straight out like a flag in a stiff wind.
"Plus, he's got the bluest shirt on defense," equipment manager Jackie Miles said of Beason's practice jersey, which hadn't yet seen the sun.
Such was the morning for the Carolina Panthers' rookie, who got the full first-day treatment since he ended his eight-day holdout.
Teammate Thomas Davis was glad to hand his shoulder pads and helmet to Beason for the walk in afterward, and players and coaches alike got in their shots.
"I hear you, fresh legs," linebacker Adam Seward shouted after Beason made a play.
"C'mon Jon Beason, you haven't done anything for a week," special teams coach Danny Crossman barked when a winded Beason lagged in a drill.
"He had the audacity
to tell me he was at the beach," fellow former Miami Hurricane and running mate Dan Morgan cracked.
"No, man, I never went to the beach," Beason clarified, although he was staying in a seaside hotel in Jacksonville, Fla., during his holdout. "Why would I want to go sit in the sun when I've got plenty of sun right here?"
All the jokes aside, Monday marked a huge day for Beason and the Panthers, since he was able to start making up the time he missed and move closer toward the starting job they envisioned when they used the 25th overall pick in the draft to acquire him.
Since incumbent starting weakside linebacker Na'il Diggs is still on the sidelines with a hamstring strain, Beason was working with the starters by the end of Monday's first practice. Davis, Morgan and Beason would be the kind of track team the Panthers have longed for in the middle of their defense, and it didn't take long to manifest itself.
"Let's not forget we had him in the offseason with our mini-camp and also our summer school," Panthers coach John Fox said. "Hopefully, he's in good shape and can stay healthy and keep plugging along."
Fox said Beason was on hand for all the defensive installation during May and June practices, giving him a good head start on the cram sessions that began Sunday.
"He missed the second time around probably on about 30 percent," Fox said. "We'll just have to catch him up. He was in meetings late last night."
Beason said his indoctrination began shortly after getting to Wofford College Sunday, just before 5 p.m. He estimated he was up until around midnight studying.
"I slept good last night," he said.
He may have needed a bit more rest before the horn blew to wake players at 7 a.m., because there were points during his first fully padded practice when he looked winded and weary. He said he felt like he hit a wall around the halfway mark.
He was working out with personal trainers in Jacksonville, but said having to shed blockers and run around in full pads was something they couldn't replicate.
"You can do all the running you want but football shape is different," Beason said. "Putting the helmet and the shoulder pads on, it's heavy. But a couple days, I'll be ready."
Fox wouldn't say whether Beason would play in the first preseason game Saturday against the New York Giants, but Beason didn't hesitate.
"Definitely," he replied. "Can't wait."
He was also anxious to put the last week behind him. After holding out for eight days and missing the first 12 practices, Beason knows his image is tarnished. He said he heard it from a few fans on the way (when he signed a few autographs before Fox walked behind him and he scurried away), but mostly thinks folks understand his obligations.
"This is a very fair club, from the Richardsons on down," Beason said. "They took care of me, they showed their appreciation, both sides agreed to terms and everyone's happy now. But you know, I can't be mad at the fans.
"I know it's part of the process but I say, 'I'll make up when I get out there and start playing.' They'll love me."
Morgan said players understood Beason's situation, which is why all the shots fired Monday were friendly. He said they stayed in touch by text message throughout the holdout, and Beason said he read every update he could from Panthers camp to know what was going on.
"You really do got to do what's best for your family," Morgan said. "That's what Jon said from the beginning. I've got no hard feelings.
"We'll mess with him, but it's not like we're mad at him."