CHARLOTTE, NC - The Carolina Panthers returned to the practice field at Bank of America Stadium on New Year's Day.

This was their first workout since Sunday's Division clinching win in Atlanta.

The Panthers defense was still a hot topic of conversation in the lockeroom after that walk through.

Several players reacted to the news that defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will interview with the Washington Redskins later this weekend in Charlotte, including cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell.

It's not a distraction, Munnerlyn said. He laid it out on the line and told us about it this morning, it's not a distraction to the team, we aren't looking at it that way. We are just gonna go out and play football. Mitchell added, I'm so excited for him for the man he is, the type of family man he is, the type of coach. He's one of the better defensive coordinators in the league and that's why he's getting interest.

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is another big reason that Carolina currently is ranked second in the league in Total Team Defense. Hardy earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 17 after a four sack performance.

The Kraken is also enjoying his first Pro-Bowl selection this season, after posting 15 sacks in a contract year. He's looking for a big new deal, but would also be open to returning to Charlotte and giving the Panthers a bit of a hometown discount.

I love Charlotte, you guys aren't too bad on me, said Hardy to the media on Wednesday afternoon. Coach gave me a starting position when I couldn't even walk in this league. That's my guy and this organization has always had my back when nobody wanted to take a chance. If ya'll want me here, everybody knows what they got to do.

Hardy went on to add that he would love the Panthers to apply the Franchise Tag on him for 2014. The tag price for a defensive end in 2014 should be a slight increase over Hardy's salary this season of $11,170,000.

Finally, the Panthers will hold wide receiver Steve Smith out of practice this week as a precaution. Smitty sprained his knee in the first half of Carolina's win over New Orleans back in Week 16.

Head coach Ron Rivera says he expects Smith to be ready for the Divisional Round on Sunday, January 12th. Carolina will find out its opponent for that game over Wildcard Weekend.

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