As he transitions from college to the NFL, Panthers rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden has been lacking one of the trappings of a professional athlete.
A luxury vehicle — or any vehicle, for that matter.
Gaulden, the third-round pick from Tennessee, has been staying at a hotel within walking distance of Bank of America Stadium with the other rookies. He’s noticed the abundance of pay-and-ride bicycles strewn around uptown, so he has options if he tires of walking.
“I feel that would be a pretty good investment. If I’m not staying too far, I could ride a bike,” he said. “But as an NFL guy, you like to pull up to work (in a car), you know?”
Gaulden wasn’t sweating the lack of wheels last weekend. He had bigger, work-related concerns during the rookie mini-camp, primarily trying to learn the myriad responsibilities required of his position.
“Playing safety in the NFL, that’s probably one of the tougher positions to play. There’s so many different checks and adjustments that you need to know,” Gaulden said Saturday after mini-camp wrapped. “I’m very eager to learn everything.”
Gaulden, 6-foot and 200 pounds, played a lot of nickel at Tennessee but was also an in-the-box safety during his final season in Knoxville.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Gaulden looked a little rusty at deep safety during the two-day mini-camp.
“We’ll get him back on track,” he said. “Really like his athleticism, though.”
Gaulden, who also lined up at the “big” nickel spot during the rookie drills, says he’ll spend the next week before OTAs meeting with coaches and hitting the playbook.
He knows there’s an opportunity at safety after the Panthers cut Kurt Coleman during the off-season. But he also knows veterans such as Mike Adams and free-agent pickup Da’Norris Searcy are well ahead of him on the learning curve.
“These guys that are getting ready to come back for OTAs know their stuff,” Gaulden said. “So I need to be on that level and be able to separate myself.”
Gaulden wasn’t much of a ball hawk for the Volunteers, finishing with just one career interception. But he separated himself with his ability to hit and separate ball-carriers from the ball.
Two of his three forced fumbles at Tennessee came last season, when he also recovered three fumbles.
“He’s a very good football player,” Panthers general manger Marty Hurney said after drafting Gaulden. “He’s got good instincts. He’s very physical.”
Gaulden believes his reps during the mini-camp will help him play faster going forward.
Quiet and cool
But he’s not planning to be louder. He says he’ll leave the talking to rookie cornerback Donte Jackson, the second-round pick whose verbal skills have received more attention than his coverage skills.
“I’m more reserved. I take this really serious. It’s a job, and I’ve always dreamed of being here,” Gaulden said. “(Jackson) always tells me to lighten up. But I’m going to let him be that energy and that talker that he is. He gives me a big boost. We already have a really good relationship.”
What Gaulden doesn’t have yet — at least in Charlotte — is a vehicle.
For the time being, he’s happy making the short walk to work along Mint Street. So far, nobody has noticed him.
“Not yet. But there’s a process to that, man,” Gaulden said. “You’ve got to make a name for yourself first.”