SPARTANBURG Chase Blackburn is a two-time Super Bowl champion who is coming off the best season of his career.
With Thomas Davis and Jon Beason limited in training camp, Blackburn has been getting first-team reps at both weak side and strong side linebacker, and it’s possible he starts at one of those positions for the Panthers come Week 1.
And less than two years ago, Blackburn was considering being a substitute math teacher at an Ohio middle school.
“After the lockout I didn’t get picked up,” said Blackburn, who was a free agent when the 2011 NFL lockout hit. “I was out of football for a while and started thinking about getting a job. While I was working out I ran into one of my old football coaches who’s a principal now. One of the teachers was going on maternity leave. I thought it’d be perfect for me.”
Blackburn, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, graduated from the University of Akron with a mathematics degree. He would’ve had to brush up on his math, but after going nearly four months without his football job, he was ready to get any work he could.
Then, his old team called. The New York Giants, who had employed Blackburn for his six-year NFL career, needed a linebacker after three of theirs were injured. The Giants signed him on Nov.29, and on Dec. 4 he was intercepting an Aaron Rodgers pass.
He and the Giants went on to beat New England in Super Bowl XLVI that season, with Blackburn tallying six tackles and an interception – the only turnover of the game.
“I actually wouldn’t have even started (the teaching job) until after the Super Bowl anyway because she went into labor the Friday before the Super Bowl,” Blackburn said. “(The principal) sent me a text later saying I would have started on Monday.”
Blackburn followed up his superb Super Bowl performance with the best season of his career. In 2012 he had three sacks, one interception, four forced fumbles and 97 tackles.
But when he and the Giants couldn’t come to terms on a new deal this offseason, Dave Gettleman, the Panthers’ general manager and a former Giants executive, offered Blackburn a two-year deal.
Blackburn actively reached out to his teammates months before training camp. He was one of almost a dozen Panthers who participated in batting practice before a Charlotte Knights game, where he led the team with three home runs. And he even showed up despite burning his arm hours earlier.
He was MVP of Jordan Gross’ charity kickball event in the spring, and also bowled with Ron Rivera and teammates for the coach’s charity event.
“Getting some time with those guys just outside of football allows me to communicate better with them,” Blackburn said, “and understand their personalities and things like that and what kind of buttons you can push to get them motivated.”
That communication has been key this offseason. Neither Davis nor Beason has competed in team drills during camp, with the Panthers easing Davis back after coming back from his third ACL surgery last year while potentially holding out Beason until the regular season.
That leaves middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the defensive rookie of the year, with Blackburn on one side and veteran Jordan Senn or rookie A.J. Klein on the other.
“Chase has been around a while and he understands defenses,” Kuechly said. “He’s a smart guy, and he picks up on stuff quick. Playing with him is easy. You can kind of say something right before the snap of the ball and he picks up on it.”
His teammates have noticed his off-the-field efforts, includDavis. And in a way, Blackburn has been both a student and teacher of the game.
“Not only was he able to go win two rings, he played well in those games, so we definitely lean on Chase for the knowledge he has of this game,” Davis said.
“He’s a true leader. He embraces that role and helps us as much as he possibly can with the young guys, so he’s a true pro.”