Quarterback Cam Newton found tight end Ed Dickson for a completion over the outstretched arm of safety Tre Boston during team drills on Friday.
Boston got one or two fingers on the ball, but it didn’t matter. Newton, as is his custom, ran over toward Dickson to congratulate the tight end, but he also wanted to let Boston hear about it.
“Throw it my way,” Newton mocked the safety as he did a shuffle with his feet.
Boston was dejected. And after practice he watched the film and noticed Dickson only had one foot inbounds. Incomplete pass.
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“I really take pride in me and Cam going back and forth right now,” Boston told the Observer last weekend at training camp. “I had a couple of picks in OTAs (organized team activities) and I want to keep that up in training camp. I want them to know my presence back there is real.
“I want them to know I’m trying to get myself and the MVP (Newton) better. I want to show them that I’m capable of reading our MVP well to where I show up on film and they see I’m the real deal.”
Boston’s speech began to crescendo. The third-year safety, having earned the Week 1 job for the first time in his career, had something more to say.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted and now it’s time to take off with it. I don’t see it as, ‘Oh this is your first year starting.’ No, I see it as it’s my first time to make plays. Really take over the secondary, really be somebody the league fears.
“I mean that with everything in my heart. They will fear me one day.”
Right now Tre Boston’s name doesn’t exactly strike fear in players around the NFL. In his two seasons as mostly a backup, he has 42 tackles, three passes defensed and three interceptions in the regular season and playoffs.
But Boston says this is an opportunity to turn the corner. He’s not only a new player but a new man, as well.
On July 3, less than a week before his wedding, Boston was baptized at Second Calvary Baptist Church in Charlotte. He hadn’t been baptized as a child because his mother, Iris, wanted him to do it on his own terms when Boston was ready.
“Not to say I lived wrong, you know? Everybody has sinned before,” Boston said. “But to wash all my sins off going into marriage meant so much for me. I became a new man. This is a new season. A new me. I wanted people to realize that and know that I’m a man of faith.”
New responsibility comes to the new man this year. Last season he lost the free safety job to Kurt Coleman in training camp. Coleman enjoyed a season with nine interceptions and just signed a three-year contract extension worth $17 million.
The Panthers did not re-sign Roman Harper, so they moved Coleman to Harper’s strong safety position and Boston will play his natural free safety role this season for a team that led the league last year in interceptions with 24.
“I think it’s time for Tre to take himself to the next level, and he’s doing it,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said during the first week of camp. “He’s doing the leadership things that you’d expect from him. He’s got great natural play-making ability and he’s showed it.”
Rivera and tight end Greg Olsen referred to Boston’s speed as fast, with Olsen saying it was at times deceptive. But Boston also brings an energy to the secondary that might otherwise be lacking.
Josh Norman’s departure left a void in the secondary that goes beyond the on-field play. His trash talk and charisma was his own last season, and that exuberance spread in the defensive backfield.
Now Boston has taken up that mantle.
“I wouldn’t say character. That could be misconstrued many ways. But I would like to say I can be the life of the party back there,” Boston said. “It’s a role that I have to take on a little more, come upon a little faster. That’s who I’ve always been. It’s not that I wasn’t that last year; I just had a bigger name in front of me. Josh did a great job of that and now it’s time to step up my game.”
That means he will continue to trash talk Newton and beg the quarterback to throw his way. And during the season that means to trash talk opponents like he always has, though he was unwilling to share with a reporter any previous on-field comments.
But more than anything, the Panthers will need Boston to make plays.
“I don’t think it’s a rule that someone has to be like that at any position,” Olsen said of Boston’s on-field character. “But I think Tre needs to be a guy for us this year.
“With having him and Kurt back there and some young guys on the outside, those safeties need to be established guys that we can rely and count on. And Tre has become that.”