Strickly Panthers: Veteran DeCoud ready for any role

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Panthers fans have surely seen safety Thomas DeCoud on an NFL broadcast given that he appeared in 12 games against Carolina in six seasons with Atlanta Falcons.

Some fans may have also heard his voice from time to time on the NFL Network, but very few know that he's also appeared on the Cartoon Network.

"Aqua Teen Hunger Force - I did a couple of voices on that show," DeCoud said. "There was an episode about bongo drums that were made from the skin of this mythical creature. I played the hippies that were playing the bongo drums."

Now DeCoud, in line for a leading role in the Panthers' rebuilt secondary, wants to help the back end of a defense that dominated at the point of attack in 2013 make some noise of its own.

"We want to go out there and put our stamp on this defense and make sure that there are no weak links in the chain," DeCoud said. "We want you to have your work cut out for you out here in Carolina."

DeCoud is one of two former Pro Bowl safeties from NFC South rivals joining forces with the Panthers this season. He and longtime New Orleans Saints standout Roman Harper are expected to team with 2013 rookie Robert Lester to fortify a safety group that didn't re-sign hard-hitting Mike Mitchell.

In 2013, DeCoud failed to post an interception and had his lowest tackle total in his five seasons as a starter for the Falcons. Yet he still posted 83 tackles, and the Panthers don't believe that a tough season for just about everyone in a Falcons uniform means that DeCoud's best days are behind him.

"We're hoping to see him return to the form he had in 2012," head coach Ron Rivera said.

DeCoud made the Pro Bowl in 2012, the same year that Harper – a two-time Pro Bowler – posted 100-plus tackles for the fifth consecutive season. A knee injury derailed Harper's streak last season, and first-year Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason wasn't a starter for the first time since 2009.

No, 2013 wasn't a good year for the Panthers' secondary additions, but it was a good year for a Panthers defense that featured a stout front seven and an unproven secondary that did its part. This year's collection of defensive backs has accomplished more, and last year's front seven returns intact.

"You can't be the number two defense in the NFL without a great front seven," DeCoud said. "We have to go out and match their intensity, match their level of play.

"As DBs on the back end, we invite pressure. We want the spotlight to be on us. We want everyone to be relying on us, because at the end of the day, if it gets behind us, it's six points."

DeCoud has quickly become a voice in the defensive backs meeting room, capable of striking both a serious tone and a playful one. He recently shared a snippet of his impersonation of Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman with the media and is working on identifying the member of the coaching staff that he can best impersonate.

Sure it may sound silly, but there's a method to the madness for the Panthers' new method actor.

"We have fun in our DB room. If you walk past our meeting room sometimes, you'd think it was a comedy show in there," DeCoud said. "We have a great room, top to bottom, old guys, young guys.

"We're able to have an idea of each other's personality, and it's really showing in the way we're playing. I'm really excited to see what we can do together."

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