In the National Football League, there's not a lot of space between the highest highs and the lowest lows. The Carolina Panthers understand this well.
In 2008 the club won the NFC South title and was expected to steamroll the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.
But it was Carolina that got steamrolled at Bank of America Stadium, and the franchise has been on a downward spiral ever since.
Even before the team stumbled to a 2-14 record in 2010 there were signs of disaster during training camp last summer in Spartanburg, S.C.
Coach John Fox was testy.
Wideout Steve Smith was testier.
If there was any optimism -- any optimism at all -- no one was showing it.
There's a totally different vibe this year, despite a late start to practice due to the lockout and barely bearable temperatures.
New coach Ron Rivera likes his team and his team likes him.
Smith is smiling and talking.
And everyone is mesmerized by top draft pick Cam Newton, whose turn as the starting quarterback for Carolina will come sooner than later.
Forget any baggage this kid might've brought from Auburn -- no one on the team has worked any harder.
This year there is optimism, optimism that the lowest lows are gone and the highest highs might be in reach. This bunch has faith in themselves and each other.
"With change, things change, and one of the things that is changing is the attitude that we want," Rivera said. "We want these guys to understand that we control our destiny more so than anything else. It's not about what other folks are doing. It's about what we do."
To watch them practice, this looks like a team prepared to win again.
Certainly injuries can change things in a hurry, but right now the offensive line is both experienced and healthy.
So is the dynamic running duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Even if Newton is a work in progress at quarterback, there are no greater friends to a signal caller than big offensive linemen and effective running backs.
"All you've got to do is put the tape on and watch the '09 season versus the '10 season and you see a huge difference in what this offensive line can be and what we can accomplish as an offensive football team," Rivera said. "Two seasons ago, you had two guys rush for 1,100 yards. I think we have an opportunity to get ourselves back in that position."
If that happens -- and the Panthers' defense continues to be one of the stingiest crews in the NFL -- who knows?
An upset here and a lucky break there could help Carolina make a huge leap forward in 2011.
Just call it a leap of faith.