CHARLOTTE – When he served as a training camp coaching intern for the New York Jets in the summer of 2007, Al Holcomb knew he wanted to coach in the National Football League permanently.
"I had a burning desire," Holcomb said. "I felt like this was what I wanted to do."
At the time, Holcomb was midway through his three-year stint as the defensive line coach at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn.
Then, after the 2008 season concluded, Holcomb got a call from New York's other NFL team – the Giants.
"I just kept nurturing those NFL contacts and when a spot with the Giants opened up, they called me and asked if I'd be interested in interviewing," Holcomb said. "Being from New York, born and raised, that was unbelievable."
Holcomb interviewed for the defensive quality control position. It was his opportunity to get his foot in the door of an NFL franchise.
He thought the interview went well.
"As a coach, you only get so many opportunities to coach at the highest level," Holcomb said. "I felt like that was my one shot to get in front of people and show them what I was capable of."
The Giants offered Holcomb the job the next day.
"A huge moment in my career," he said.
After four successful years with the Giants – the final two as a defensive assistant – Holcomb learned that another NFL team was interested in his services.
The Carolina Panthers were looking for a new linebackers coach, and head coach Ron Rivera requested an interview.
"I came down, the staff was great and I thought I nailed the interview," Holcomb recalls.
He was right.
"Coach (Rivera) extended the offer, and I decided it was time for me to make the move and for my family to come down here."
Expectations for that trio are high, as they should be given their talent and track records. Holcomb understands that and welcomes the pressure.
"Obviously, everyone is looking to this position group as the leaders and the bell cows on the defensive side of the ball," Holcomb said. "We certainly are going to do our part to get this defense where it needs to be.
"It's exciting, because there is a lot of knowledge in that room. They are really the quarterbacks of the defense – really bright, high football intellect kind of guys. And they make you go 'wow' in terms of their athletic ability."
After a minicamp practice, Holcomb offered some early observations on his three starters.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly – the 2012 NFL tackle leader and Defensive Rookie of the Year – has been as good as advertised.
"He's very good and even with the success that he's had early in his career, he's like a sponge," Holcomb said. "He wants to gain as much knowledge about the (middle linebacker) position and the defense as he can.
"You tell him something once, and he gets it. He lets you coach him, he takes to coaching very well. He tries everything the way we are teaching it. It's been a pleasure coaching him."
Jon Beason is adjusting to the weakside linebacker spot after playing in the middle for most of his first six seasons. Holcomb believes the switch will be seamless with the ability Beason possesses.
"Jon is a three-time Pro Bowler, he's been the leader of this defense. The guys rally around him," Holcomb said. "His football acumen is off the charts.
"I think he's going to transition well to the outside and he's going to give us a presence there."
Holcomb also likes how Thomas Davis has transitioned to the strongside position, after reemerging as the weakside linebacker in 2012 following three anterior cruciate ligament injuries in less than two years.
"Thomas is a veteran, and he sees the big picture. He gets it," Holcomb said. "He's adjusting very well to playing on the strong side. He's picking up the checks, he's communicating more.
"Physically, he's a guy that in space, you marvel at. He has exceptional ability for the position, in terms of his movement and his ability to close on the football."
For a position coach making his debut, Holcomb's got plenty of talent to work with. Now he's tasked with maximizing the talent at his disposal.
"What I try to do is give them some key coaching points and then let them go play – not over-coach them," Holcomb said. "Let their natural instincts take over."