Starting Free Safety: Tre Boston
The former UNC Tar Heel was the Carolina Panthers fourth round draft pick last year and replaced Thomas Decoud in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings. The team released DeCoud after that game and Boston was the team’s starting safety from that point forward.
At 6’1” and 210 pounds, Boston finished the season with 31 tackles and two interceptions. The first interception came in the final regular season game against the Atlanta Falcons, an interception he returned 84 yards for a touchdown. He intercepted another pass the very next week in the Panthers’ first playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Boston is a player who could really improve this season with the injury behind him and able to participate in training camp this year. The transition is not easy to go from college to the NFL and that transition is even tougher when you have to miss training camp.
The fact Boston played at the level he did his rookie season without training camp, could be a sign of big things to come for the free safety.
Starting Strong Safety: Roman Harper
Roman Harper is the oldest player in the Panthers secondary at 32 years old but he also was the only player in the secondary to start every game last year. He finished third on the team in tackles (62), first in interceptions (4), and second on the team in passes defended (10).
These certainly aren’t numbers for a player who seems to be towards the end of his career. Harper has played in a career 124 regular season games over nine seasons. He may be in line to play in a platoon with another safety this upcoming season to help keep him playing at a high level over the entire season.
Harper’s impact goes farther than his playing time though, as evident by this article by Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler. He has become the leader of this secondary and has helped lead some of the younger players in the Panthers’ secondary, like Boston.
Safety #2: Kurt Coleman
The one player who could cut into Harper’s time and even potentially start is free agent signing Kurt Coleman. The former Philadelphia Eagle and Kansas City Chief had a bounce back season last year with the Chiefs after a few down years.
In 2011, Coleman had a breakout season with the Eagles and finished with 78 tackles and four interceptions. He had a second straight season with impressive numbers of 93 tackles and two interceptions before falling out of favor in 2013 when Chip Kelly took over as head coach.
Last season, Coleman went to Kansas City to play for former head coach Andy Reid and started two games at free safety. The benefit of a player like Coleman is not only does he have experience at both safety positions, he also can be a key contributor on special teams.
Even though Coleman may not be listed as the starter at either safety position, I expect him to have a major role for the Panthers in 2015.
Safety #3: Colin Jones
Another player who has a tremendous amount of versatility is Colin Jones, who will be entering his fourth season with the Carolina Panthers. Last year, Jones started out as the team’s backup safety but with the injuries and changes at cornerback, he finished as the team’s starting nickelback.
He actually played pretty well in this role and had a career high in tackles with 27. He also recorded his first career sack, forced fumble and pass defended. Entering training camp he will be listed as a safety but with how the cornerback position shakes out, he could end up as the team’s nickelback again.
Safety #4: Robert Lester
After playing 336 snaps and starting two games at strong safety in 2013 as a rookie, Lester saw his playing time get cut significantly to only 17 snaps last year. He will be entering training camp this season looking for way to earn back some playing time.
Lester certainly has potential to be a starting safety but right now with Harper and Coleman ahead of him, he may be watching more than he will be playing in 2015. Even if Lester is not able to play much this year, he should still be considered the safety of the future and should the starter by 2016.
Rest of the Position
The Panthers have two other safeties currently on the roster, free agent Marcus Ball and undrafted free agent Dean Marlowe. Both are going to need to have very strong training camps if they hope to leap over any of the players currently ahead of them on the depth chart.
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.