Kurt Coleman is confident he can help improve a Carolina Panthers’ special teams unit that was among the league’s worst last season.
But Coleman made it clear Monday he’s not coming to Charlotte only to cover punts and kickoffs. The free agent safety wants to be a starter again, and believes he has a shot with Carolina.
Coleman, 26, an unrestricted free agent who played last season with Kansas City, signed a two-year contract Monday at the start of the second week of free agency.
Terms of the deal were undisclosed.
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Coleman hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2012 with Philadelphia. But after coming up with five takeaways in part-time duty last year with the Chiefs, Coleman is confident he can be a starter again.
“Absolutely, without a doubt. I know I can start in this league with no question,” Coleman said. “In the limited time that I have gotten in these last two years ... I make plays when I get in there.”
The Panthers signed two free agent safeties last offseason – strong safety Roman Harper and free safety Thomas DeCoud, who was released in February after losing his starting spot to rookie Tre Boston late last season.
Harper, 32, struggled in coverage and in pursuit of faster players, but he was solid in run support. Harper was the league’s third-highest rated safety against the run, according to Pro Football Focus.
Coleman, 5-11 and 200 pounds, said he’s comfortable playing either safety spot.
“I’m excited. I don’t want this position handed to me. I’m going to go earn it,” Coleman said during a session with reporters at Bank of America Stadium. “And I want this team to be the best team possible.”
Coleman led the Chiefs with three interceptions in 2014 despite starting only three games.
The former Ohio State player was a seventh-round pick with Philadelphia in 2010, which coincided with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s final season as the Eagles’ coordinator.
McDermott was the first of six coordinators for Coleman over his first five seasons, the first four of which were spent in Philadelphia. Coleman signed with Minnesota last offseason, but was among the Vikings’ final roster cuts last August.
Coleman said his background with McDermott’s defense was part of the reason he signed with the Panthers.
“I was just telling Sean, the blessing and the curse,” Coleman said. “We had a lot of turnover in Philly. Then I played for (Vikings coach) Mike Zimmer a quick stint, then out to Kansas City. So I’ve had a big background of different defenses. So having that continuity, that familiarity, to go into a situation and know what you’re getting yourself into, I think played a big role in it.”
Coleman started 27 of 29 games for the Eagles during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, finishing with a career high four interceptions in 2011.
In his only season with Kansas City, Coleman had 37 tackles and six pass breakups despite serving as the Chiefs’ third, and sometimes fourth, safety, according to a Kansas City Star article last month.
Coleman, who played only 36 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps, was productive in the limited role. But it didn’t satisfy him.
“I want to start again. And they believe that I can come in here and have the opportunity to. That’s all I wanted,” he said. “And then you look at where this team’s heading. I don’t think this team is heading backward. They’re heading forward and the progression that they’ve made these last few years, it’s a lot of positive reviews.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he likes Coleman’s versatility.
“Kurt gives us a versatile safety who can play both spots,” Rivera said in a news release. “He’s athletic, he’s intelligent, and will understand the system, having worked with Sean (McDermott) before. He’s a very consistent player and also adds special teams ability. That is something we’ve talked about improving upon and we’ve made some moves this offseason looking for guys that can help us on special teams.
“Kurt will help us not only on defense, but on special teams as well.”
In addition to McDermott, Coleman will find other familiar faces in the Panthers’ facility. He joins a Charlotte chapter of the Ohio State alumni club that includes Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Andrew Norwell.
“This is the most I’ve ever been surrounded with Buckeyes. It feels good,” Coleman said. “I’ve usually been the lone survivor.”
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