CHARLOTTE - When the Atlanta Falcons released defensive tackle Paul Soliai last week, the first team to reach out was one of the Falcons' foes.
Soliai and the Panthers became fast friends.
"The first team that approached me was Carolina. I've never really had much of a chance to play in the playoffs, so I decided to come here and give it a try," said Soliai, who signed a two-year contract Tuesday. "I saw the way they played last year, the chemistry, having fun out there and the bond they had while flying to the football and making plays.
"I can't wait to meet them and start working with them."
The only thing missing from Soliai's standout nine-year career is a playoff pedigree – he's played in just one playoff game – and the Panthers are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and three consecutive playoff appearances.
The run of success coincides with the arrival of defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, the Panthers' first two selections in the 2013 NFL Draft. That's another reason Soliai - like Lotulelei a product of the University of Utah - can't wait to get started.
"It will be a pleasure to play with these young guys, Short and Star. I'm just happy to be here," Soliai said. "I used to go back to Utah a lot. I could tell Star was going to be a big prospect. I was a fan of his before he got drafted."
And the Panthers, who released veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards earlier this month, are excited about what the 345-pound Soliai can bring to the defensive line.
"Paul gives us a veteran presence, and I think his experience most certainly will add to what we have already with Kawann and Star. I think he'll be a good complement to them both," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a solid run-defending big man, and at the same time he's a guy that can push the pocket and apply middle pressure on the quarterback. I also think his space-eating ability will allow our linebackers to run."
Soliai has never put up big statistics – he has just 5.5 career sacks – but that's generally the reality for men in the middle.
"A lot of people don't recognize the nose tackle unless you're making a lot of plays," he said. "The way I play, I get doubled a lot. I make linebackers look good. I'm under the radar, but real football players and real coaches understand what I can do."
And Soliai, now age 32, is prepared to prove he can still do more. In the eight seasons since seeing limited playing time in 2007 as a fourth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins – where he spent his first seven seasons – Soliai has missed just one game a year on average.
"I never miss games. I'm proud of that," said Soliai, who did miss one of the Carolina games last year with a calf injury. "I got hurt in the Minnesota game, and I tried to man it out, thinking we were going to make the playoffs. But I never should have done that. I should have listened, but us Polynesians, it's not until we can't walk anymore that we're really hurt.
"I'm not getting any younger, but I know I have a lot to bring to this team."