CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have filled their vacant defensive backs coaching position with a coach who's been working with the unit for four years running.
Curtis Fuller has been elevated to defensive backs coach from his most recent role as assistant defensive backs/nickels coach. Rams defensive quality control coach Jeff Imamura has been hired to fill Fuller's previous role.
Fuller replaces Steve Wilks, who was named Panthers defensive coordinator last month after Sean McDermott departed to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
"It's an exciting time in my life," said Fuller, who has helped coach the Panthers' secondary since 2013. "To learn under Steve – a guy that's well respected in this league – some of the techniques, the coverages and how he does things was invaluable to me. It allowed me to grow in the role I was in.
"Steve allowed me to get in front of the room and do things. He said, 'We're about growth here. We're about allowing coaches to make mistakes and correct mistakes and move forward.' So that was huge for me."
Fuller's first association with the Panthers was as a safety the second half of the 2004 season, which proved the end of the former Seahawks' fourth-round draft pick's four-year playing career. He began his coaching career soon after and returned to Carolina in 2013 as an administrative assistant that worked with Wilks. Fuller ascended to assistant defensive backs coach under Wilks in 2014, helped special teams as well as the nickel backs in 2015 and then turned his full attention back to the secondary last season.
The Panthers tied for the NFC lead with 17 interceptions last season and led the NFL with 24 in 2015. In three of Fuller's four seasons in Carolina, the Panthers finished as a top-10 overall defense.
"Steve laid an awesome foundation, and we're not going to tear up any foundations. We're just going to put another brick on the foundation," said Fuller, who will turn 39 around the time training camp begins in late July and hopes to bring a youthful enthusiasm to his role. "Guys want to be coached in this league. They want to be better. If you can give them something to be better, they'll take it and run with it, and really that's my goal is to improve these guys incrementally each and every day, and then we'll move forward that way.
"My expectations for those guys are still high. I think those guys have a lot of potential, a lot of growth, and we just want to take the next step with them."
Fuller will be assisted by a familiar face in Imamura, who was a graduate assistant at Texas Christian University in the late 1990s when Fuller was a two-time all-conference safety for the Horned Frogs. Imamura has spent 10 of the past 11 seasons coaching in the NFL, the last two helping the Rams linebackers while also serving as quality control coach for a defense that led the NFL with 245 negative plays over the two-year span. He was a Vikings defensive assistant from 2006-2013, focusing on the safeties his final two seasons.
All told, Imamura brings nearly two decades of coaching to the table, with eight years of college coaching under his belt beginning at his alma mater in 1997.