CHARLOTTE – Kurt Coleman is Carolina's starting free safety entering the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars for a few reasons. "His maturity level and the fact that he was comfortable in the system – he had played for (defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott) in Philly," general manager Dave Gettleman said.
"And he's just one of those guys – guys like him know how to play the game. They understand the game, they know what they're doing. And in this league, more games are lost than won. Teams beat themselves, and Kurt doesn't beat himself."
When he signed in Carolina as a free agent this offseason, Coleman made it clear he wanted to be a starter and had the ability to be a starter.
"I know what I'm capable of," Coleman said. "And I said this back in March and I'll say it again – I just want to help this team win. In my true heart of hearts, I know I can really produce for this team.
"But starting was never just the end-all goal."
After the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the seventh round in 2010 (McDermott's' final year in Philadelphia), Coleman quickly made his mark as a special teams ace and also started two games. In 2011 and 2012, he was a full-time starter for the Eagles.
But in 2013, Coleman played in 15 games with zero starts. He left Philadelphia for Kansas City last year and led the Chiefs with three interceptions despite making just three starts.
The Panthers are his third team in three years, and Coleman came to Carolina determined to prove he could be a full-time starter again.
"He had to earn the respect of his teammates," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said, "and he knew that."
It didn't take long before he was snagging interceptions and running with the first team in training camp. He stood out in the preseason as well, playing tough against the run and picking off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the third game.
"He was the best safety in camp," fellow safety Roman Harper said. "He made a lot of plays. He's earned everything."
Last season, Harper started every game at strong safety in his first year in Carolina. He played alongside free safety Thomas DeCoud for 11 of the first 12 games, but rookie Tre Boston took over in Week 13. The fourth-round pick experienced growing pains but added much-needed speed to the secondary.
This year, Boston and Coleman battled for the starting job in training camp, and Coleman brought consistency and excellent communication to the practice field – something the Panthers were coveting from their backline defenders.
"He's the same every day. He's going to give you his best. That's important to our defense," McDermott said. "A safety is similar to a linebacker in that we need our signal callers to be consistent day in and day out. Kurt has fit in nicely."
Added Harper: "Mental errors are way down. Kurt has seen different things and he's been around the league, so he's been able to sink his teeth into this defense. He understands the whole defense, not just his position. That allows us to be more flexible and do different things. We are never in a panic."
Coleman, entering his sixth season, always tries to remain level-headed. Winning the starting job was a goal he set out to achieve, but he treats the accomplishment with a veteran perspective.
"I'm never satisfied, because I've been in situations where I knew I was good enough to start and I didn't," Coleman said. "You can't let those emotions dictate how you play because you'll always be up and down. I want to stay consistent and continue to get better.
"I don't want to let anybody down. I'm going to leave it all out there."