Kurt Coleman has been impressing during Panthers preseason

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Kurt Coleman signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent in March, he wanted to earn a starting position.

A seventh-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, the former Ohio State safety believes he can start in the NFL. With the Panthers, he’s taking advantage of his opportunity to impress.

And impress he has.

Carolina Huddle

Panthers safety Kurt Coleman

Anyone who attended any practice during organized team activities, the June minicamp or training camp has seen Coleman making plays on a daily basis.

While the likely starters will be Roman Harper and Tre Boston, Coleman was perhaps the top safety during the preseason and has been part of the safety rotation with the starting defense.

“Coleman is a very cerebral guy, very smart, physical football player,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said following a training camp practice in early August. “I like the combination there.”

After four years with the Eagles, for whom he started 29 games, Coleman initially signed with the Minnesota Vikings last year, but was released during training camp cuts.

He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs three days later and wound up leading the team with three interceptions despite starting just three games.

“He’s smart. He’s physical. He’s putting himself in position to make plays,” Carolina secondary coach Steve Wilks said of Coleman earlier this summer.

While Rivera and Wilks like Coleman’s physical style, they did tell him to scale it back a bit during training camp when he was blowing up running backs during 11-on-11 drills.

“I’m physical. I’m not looking to hurt anybody, especially my teammates. But it’s a physical game,” the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Coleman said. “I’ve got to work on certain tackles. If I’m told to let up, I’ll let up.

“For certain inside runs drills, hey, we’ve all got to get better. I’ve got to thud you up and sometimes I take you to the ground. It’s just me trying to get better.’’

Maybe more impressive than his tackling has been Coleman’s ability to track the ball this summer. But it hasn’t just been the Panthers quarterbacks he’s picking off, he intercepted Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a deep ball on Aug. 19.

Ron Clements

Josh Norman

“He’s having a good camp,” Carolina cornerback Josh Norman said last Wednesday. “He’s been a lock back there for us. He’s been solid. He’s doing what’s asked by our coaches and doing it to the best of his ability. That safety for us back there has to make plays when it’s time and when his number’s called, he’s making them.”

Coleman was credited with three tackles during each of Carolina’s first two preseason games against the Buffalo Bills and Dolphins – though he did blow up a play and re-direct the running back during the first half against Miami. When the Panthers play host to New England on Friday, Coleman will get his shot against Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. While Coleman hopes to be the starter, his top priority is just to be “great together.”

“It’s a selfless defense,” Coleman said. “What we’re doing, we have the potential to be good. I really think this defense and secondary can be really, really good.”

About Ron Clements

Wisconsin native, former Marine, Summa Cum Laude graduate of East Carolina University and a working sports journalist since 1999.