Carolina Panthers rookie linebacker Ben Boulware understands that his situation is both a good one and a tough one.
By his estimation, the team has room enough for four extra linebackers behind starters Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and situational player Shaq Thompson.
Those spots have frontrunners, too. Backup middle linebacker David Mayo has proven himself valuable on special teams and is eager to step into the role left vacant by A.J. Klein (who signed with the Saints in free agency). Alongside Mayo are Jared Norris, Ben Jacobs and Jeremy Cash, all of whom have at least a year of NFL experience. East Carolina’s Zeek Bigger is also fighting for a shot as an undrafted free agent, like Boulware.
Boulware’s position is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) in the league to crack into.
That doesn’t change his I’d-even-be-the-water-boy attitude toward the impending competition, though.
“I just want a job,” he said. “I’m not trying to beat out Luke or T.D. I just want to make the team at this point. ... I realize there are spots open, and not much security when it comes to being in the NFL. Everyone’s fighting for a job out there. I’m not fighting for the No. 1 job, but I’m fighting for a spot.”
So how does he make the team?
Being valuable on special teams will be a start for Boulware, who despite his relatively humble status says he is preparing for training camp in the same manner he prepared for the national championship game while at Clemson.
He also has one of the best linebackers in the NFL from whom to learn in Kuechly. And he’s taking full advantage of it.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve made Luke mad numerous times because I’m annoying,” he said. “I realize that he’s the best in the business. I realize what he’s done in his career and will continue to do. He’s a football guru. I realize you don’t have a guy like that in a lot of situations or organizations, so yeah, I’m a sponge with him.
“I think he understands how much I want this job.”
Boulware’s desire for a roster spot in Carolina and his amusing, engaging personality (plus his local-hero status in college) make him a fan-favorite as the Panthers open practices in Spartanburg. But the rookie knows it’ll take more than that to stick.
“All the support I can get is very appreciated. I realize I have to take care of business on my side of it though,” he said. “I realize that they’re not going to make me make the team just by being the fan vote, or whatever. I have to go out there and handle my business and do my job, be accountable, and be ready to fit in wherever that need is.”