While all eyes were on the Carolina Panthers’ young cornerbacks in 2016, the safeties muddled through a so-so season as the last line of defense.
Kurt Coleman’s interceptions total dipped from a career-high seven in 2015 to four last season as he was forced to play more strong safety following the departure of Roman Harper. Meanwhile, the lasting image of Tre Boston’s final season in Carolina was of him easing up on a long touchdown by the Falcons’ Tevin Coleman because Boston thought rookie corner James Bradberry had the tackle.
Boston was waived during the offseason, a cost-cutting move also was tied to his inconsistencies. The Panthers signed 36-year-old Mike Adams to play strong safety, allowing Coleman to switch back to free safety, where he should make more plays on the ball.
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The Panthers have been waiting for Dean Marlowe to realize his potential since they signed him as an undrafted free agent two years ago. Marlowe played sparingly as a rookie, then was sidelined by a hamstring injury last season. This training camp might be Marlowe’s best – and last – chance to prove he can be an impact player.
To be decided in camp
Given Adams’ advanced age – something of a sore subject with the 14-year veteran – it’s imperative that the Panthers have dependable backups. Cutting Boston hurt the depth, although special teams ace Colin Jones has started games at safety. The Panthers need one of their young safeties to emerge or they’ll be shopping for a free agent near the end of camp.
Underdog to watch
Several guys qualify here, including Marlowe and Dezmen Southward, the former third-round pick of the Falcons who was out of the league last year. But we’ll go with Travell Dixon, the former University of Washington safety who roomed with Shaq Thompson in college. Dixon spent last season on the practice squad before playing in the Week 17 loss at Tampa Bay.
Three bold predictions
▪ Playing at his more natural deep safety spot, Coleman will tie his career high with seven interceptions, including one against Tom Brady in Week 4 at New England.
▪ Adams will finish with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, on line with his numbers from each of his last three seasons in Indianapolis.
▪ Displeased with the progress of the young backups, general manager Dave Gettleman will sign a veteran safety when nearly 1,200 players hit the market as rosters are reduced Sept. 2.