Thirty-two career starts and consistency in the preseason have earned Kurt Coleman the starting spot at free safety for the Carolina Panthers.
Coleman, a six-year NFL veteran, took control of the first-team spot early in camp and never let go, and this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars he’ll start alongside Roman Harper in the defensive backfield.
In his first year with the Panthers, Coleman unseated second-year safety Tre Boston, who started the second half of last season.
But Carolina coaches said it wasn’t what Boston did to lose the job as much as it was what Coleman did to win it.
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“Tre had a good camp, but that’s the kind of competition that you want to create,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He had been in a system (in Philadelphia) very similar to what we run here, so he assimilated very quickly. And he’s a veteran guy. He’s got a little more age experience on Tre.
“And Tre did some really good things. He showed his range a couple of times on plays, getting out of the post and to the sideline. That was very impressive.
“Kudos to Kurt.”
Coleman spent his first four seasons with the Eagles and overlapped there with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott during Coleman’s rookie season.
Coleman had three interceptions and six passes defensed last year in his only year with the Chiefs. He signed with the Panthers in April and assumed the first-team role early in camp.
McDermott pointed to Coleman’s strong preseason play – seven tackles and one interception – and his consistency as reasons he’s the starter.
“They (the other safeties) all made me a better player. They made me push myself,” Coleman said. “I’ve had so much fun doing it. I think the great thing about it is, we’re all looking out for the team’s best interests. If I’m not getting the job done, I want Tre to go in there, and I want him to have a great time.
“It’s a very selfless backend that we have, a selfless defense that we have.”
For Boston, it’s a step back after he recovered from a groin injury to start most of the second part of last season.
Boston, a fourth-round pick in 2014 from North Carolina, had his ups and downs in his rookie season. He picked off Matt Ryan and returned it 84 yards for a score in the season finale in Atlanta. But he also gave up touchdowns in both of Carolina’s losses to the Seahawks.
Boston has a positive outlook, though, noting he has two much more experienced players in Harper and Coleman ahead of him.
“I think the guys in front of me keep pushing me,” Boston said. “I’m in a situation where I just happened to have two great vets in front of me. It’s nothing against them and nothing toward me. Even coaches tell me, ‘Keep working because we’re going to need you.’
“When stuff happens, maybe I’ll be back in the lineup again. It doesn’t matter. I’m just ready to help my team in any way possible.”