Carolina Panthers strong safety Roman Harper, one of the team’s key offseason additions, played only 19 defensive snaps in Sunday’s season-opening win at Tampa Bay.
But that’s still a lot more than Harper logged during the preseason, when he played one series in the final exhibition after dealing with a turf-toe injury.
“I’d only played four or five plays all of preseason. They didn’t want to try to overdo it,” Harper said Monday. “It’s a process. The season’s long. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We all understand that.”
In March, Harper signed a two-year deal with the Panthers worth $3.65 million, including a $1.5 million signing bonus, after New Orleans cut him in a salary-dump move.
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Harper started Sunday when the Panthers opened in their base defense against the Bucs.
Charles Godfrey, who plays safety and cornerback, replaced Harper when the Panthers were in their nickel package. With Tampa Bay throwing more after falling behind 17-0, Godfrey ended up with 40 snaps.
“We had certain situations for each one. Charles was going to go in and play certain nickel situations and Roman was going to play most of our base and running situations,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And once the game became a passing game for them, that’s what caused the disparity.”
Rivera said he might stick with the platoon system, given how well Godfrey played in his first regular-season game since rupturing his Achilles in Week 2 last season.
Harper made the most of his chances, finishing with two tackles and his first interception as a Panther.
Harper, whose 17 sacks are the most by any defensive back since 2006, said he’s OK with splitting reps and is confident the coaches will find ways to utilize his blitz skills. Harper blitzed once against Tampa Bay, hitting Bucs quarterback Josh McCown just after he released the ball.
“As we go forward, it’s all going to get worked out,” Harper said. “Everybody’s going to get to play, and we’re going to have the best 11 out there for what we’re trying to get accomplished.”