SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Safety Roman Harper enjoyed his first season as a member of the Panthers defense, especially the way it ended.
In the case of the secondary for which he was the de facto captain, Harper views it as only the beginning.
"So often, this team is so caught up in the front seven, the front seven – and very deservingly so," Harper said. "But I don't see why not this back four to five can't be really good – instead of winning in spite of us winning because of the things we're doing in the back end.
"We have to be confident, understand what our job is, and go out there and compete and get it done. This secondary that they've pieced together has the opportunity to do that."
Harper, who earned two Pro Bowl nods while spending his first eight NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints, anchored a young secondary over a successful final month of the 2014 season. Rookie Tre Boston joined him as a starting safety, and cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere (also a rookie in 2014) solidified the cornerback spot. They're all back, and the unit has added two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman to the ranks.
"We're just trying to make this defense better, trying to complete it and bring it all together," Harper said. "As long as we're winning, everybody is happy, but we also want be some of that cause and effect.
"(We want to win) because of the way Josh Norman is playing, because of the way Bene is playing in the slot, because of the way Peanut is playing after not being healthy the last year-and-a-half, because Tre Boston is an up-and-coming safety starting to reach his potential."
And because of Harper, who is entering a benchmark season of sorts – his 10th but quite possibly not his last.
"I've always said that I want to play 10 years like it's some magic number, and then, boom, you run up on it before you even know it," Harper said. "My body still feels good, and I've always said that I want to take it year-to-year after that.
"We'll see after this year. I'm not really worried about it. I feel like I'll still play a couple more years, and I think the Panthers understand that – unless I just fall off a cliff. I feel good. I feel strong. I'm still able to produce at a high level."