CHARLOTTE – Rashaan Gaulden isn't one to back down.
But the rookie does have enough sense to know when to defer.
"I feel like I have the alpha dog mentality, but at the same time I know who is the alpha back there – definitely Kuechly," said Gaulden, a scrappy safety the Panthers picked in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. "I can't wait to line up next to him and be able to pick his brain and be able to show him that I'm worthy of being able to line up on the same field as him."
Gaulden should immediately compete for chances to be a part of the line of defense for Kuechly and Co. The University of Tennessee product has vast experience at both safety and cornerback, but general manager Marty Hurney indicated that Gaulden will compete at safety with veterans like Mike Adams and Da'Norris Searcy.
"I can execute safety at a very high level, and that's where the Panthers see me at," Gaulden said. "When I came up to visit Carolina, I thought I made a pretty good impression on the coaches. I sat down and talked to them, and they let me know where they saw me as a player.
"Being selected by them is the ultimate blessing and a great opportunity. I just can't wait to get down to Carolina and try to separate myself from the jump."
Gaulden, like second-round cornerback Donte Jackson selected earlier Friday by the Panthers, said he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's got a little more size than Jackson at 6-foot-1, 193 pounds, but Gaulden knows that a sizable challenge awaits in a division filled with talented pass catchers.
"I'm a competitor. I like to line up against the best," Gaulden said. "This league has a lot of great players in it; I think I'm going to establish myself as a great player."
The secondary plans to emphasize takeaways coming off a lackluster season in that regard. Gaulden had just one interception in three college seasons, but last year alone he forced three fumbles and recovered three more.
"The way I attack the game is trying to get the ball whenever I can. I'm always thinking about the football as far as forcing fumbles, tipping balls, getting interceptions," he said. "That's a major emphasis of my game, and I think about that throughout the day – think about how I can get the ball."
Gaulden wants to secure snaps as soon as possible, then sprint off the field with football in hand as often as possible. But it's also in the name of team success, and he's clearly excited about teaming up with a Kuechly-led front seven to try to accomplish some special things.
"The defensive line that the Panthers have is one of the best I've seen," Gaulden said. "I just can't wait to put my name on this organization and bring a championship to this organization. That's my goal more than anything else – to bring a championship to the Carolina Panthers."
View photos of the defensive back from Tennessee.