CHARLOTTE – One was a Saint for eight years. The other was a Falcon for six years. Now, after signing as free agents this offseason, they are lining up next to one another in the Panthers defensive backfield.
Seems strange, but safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud don't see it that way.
"It's not anything too weird," DeCoud said during the second week of organized team activities. "It's going really well. There is all that division rival talk but at the end of the day, we are all working to put food on the table and we are all working for the same goal."
Said Harper: "It's an adjustment. Everything is different – new colors, new teammates, new city. But at the same time, it has really energized me after eight years in one place. It's refreshing and it's a new challenge. It's really got me going."
As NFC South veterans, Harper and DeCoud knew a lot about the Panthers when they hit the open market this offseason. Specifically, both knew quite a bit about the dominant defense being built in Carolina.
"It's a really good situation for me to fall into," DeCoud said. "We've got a great front seven. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't in the back of my mind when I was making my decision. The past few years that we played the Panthers when I was in Atlanta, I saw them as a team on the upswing. They were getting better and better. They really started finding their flow and it came to fruition last year."
"Overall," Harper added, "this defense is really, really talented."
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Harper and DeCoud bring more talent to a unit that finished second in the NFL in total defense last season. Harper has been to two Pro Bowls (2009, 2010) and DeCoud was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2012.
During OTAs, Harper has served as the first-team strong safety with DeCoud lining up beside him as first-team free safety.
"It's been good. As safeties we have to be able to mesh and play off one another," Harper said. "We've done a good job – in a short time – learning what each of us does well. We are always communicating, and that is helping us out.
"We all have other calls from other places but we've come together and we've seen enough plays so we can pick it up faster. That really helps with the learning curve."
Having one of the league's best front sevens also helps with the learning curve. And these new safeties are intent on helping the entire defense take another step in 2014.
"We definitely want to stake our claim on this defense. Everybody looks at the great front seven, but after the season, we want it to be looked at as a great overall defense," DeCoud said. "The front seven is going to be elite, and we want to play up to their level."