The Carolina Panthers might have to catch safety Tre Boston up on scheme, but they sure won’t have to pump up his confidence.
A week into training camp, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney signed Boston to a one-year contract worth up to $3 million if all incentives are achieved. Boston played for the Panthers his first three NFL seasons, then left for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017 and Arizona Cardinals in 2018.
He wasn’t shy Thursday about framing himself as the missing piece to a great defense.
“I thought they were missing one spot. They thought they were missing one spot, too. They need a free safety,” said Boston, who expects to start alongside strong safety Eric Reid.
“Ever since I left, I’ve only shown this league I’m one of the best, especially getting (turnovers),” Boston described: “Eight picks in two years. led both my teams in picks and PBUs (pass breakups) I don’t plan on slowing down anytime now.”
Yet Boston went unsigned a week into the NFL preseason. He, like Reid, has been vocal regarding social issues. Boston implied Thursday that could have complicated how teams viewed him as a free agent.
“Is this guy so good that there (must be) something wrong with him?” Boston speculated as to why he was still available.
“I get it. You can get to thinking about red flags when a guy gets to putting up stats like mine, and you feel like nobody wants to offer him what he deserves.”
The Panthers did a lot of mixing and matching of defensive backs in their first few practices in Spartanburg, particularly Wednesday before signing Boston. Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers had considered signing him for a while.
One of the potential pluses in adding Boston is not thrusting second-year safety Rashaan Gaulden into a bigger role than he’s ready for. Gaulden is in line to be the “big nickel” back -- the Panthers call it their “Buffalo” position -- because they like his physicality.
Boston’s appeal is his track record for creating turnovers. Rivera views Boston’s “ball-hawking” as a complement to the off-season emphasis the Panthers’ put on last season’s lacking pass rush.
Rivera says he can live with the risks Boston takes to play takeaway football, so long as Boston understands where that line is.
“His anticipation is (elite), almost to the point where you wonder if he’s gambling,” Rivera said. “There is that fine line, and he has always been on that fine line. He’s going to cross it once in a while and other times it’s going to pay off.”
Boston said the key is building up a level of trust with this coaching staff.
“I’ve always told my coaches, ‘To make gambles, you’ve got to be able to trust me — know I watch film just like you do. Trust that I’ve been in this league long enough not to set us up for failure.’ That’s something I’ve gone off over the last two years and proved,” Boston said.
“You need time to build these relationships with these coaches. They know what I do. They know I’m going to find a way to get that rock.”
▪ Several veterans — notably quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly — had a scheduled day off from practice Thursday. Rivera said Kuechly’s day off was scheduled before the pileup Wednesday that caused team medical staff to hold him out the rest of the session.
▪ The Panthers waived tight end Ethan Wolf to create a preseason roster spot for the Boston signing.
▪ Gaulden missed portions of Thursday’s practice with a sore lower back. That injury was not a factor in the Panthers signing Boston, Rivera said.