By Zach Goins
August 17, 2020
When safety Tre Boston entered the NFL in 2014, he found himself joining a Panthers defense loaded with veteran players. With the likes of Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Roman Harper, there were plenty of Panthers eager to show a young rookie the ropes.
Now, with six seasons under his belt and a draft class full of rookie defenders alongside him, it’s Boston who finds himself in a leadership role as he tries to help revamp the Panthers’ defense.
“We have a culture here that we want to start,” Boston said Monday during a Zoom press conference. “It’s an identity that we’ve had before. It’s just reshaping it and getting guys up to par with how we want to do things, too, because it is a very young team.”
Nowhere does that youth show more than in the secondary– Boston’s home. In March, the Panthers lost two starters in the secondary when they opted not to re-sign cornerback James Bradberry and released safety Eric Reid. For a while, Boston wasn’t even certain he’d be returning to Carolina until the team offered him a three-year deal when free agency began.
In April, the Panthers added four new pieces to the puzzle, drafting defensive backs Jeremy Chinn, Troy Pride Jr., Kenny Robinson and Stantley Thomas-Oliver. Throw in a handful of undrafted rookies, a few young free agents, and suddenly you start to see what Boston means when he says the defense is young. After all, the average playing experience across the secondary is just 2.3 seasons.
While Boston is quick to point out that he’s only 28 years old– still young, in his mind– that’s still years ahead of the majority of his defensive teammates. But for the seventh-year safety, that inexperience isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, Boston sees it as a challenge he’s been preparing to meet over the last few years.
“I take that every day as a chip on my shoulder, knowing I’ve got to lead these young guys,” Boston explained. “Luckily, I’ve had great guys in front of me. Roman Harper, Kurt Coleman, obviously Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, I think about these guys every day.”
Back in 2014, Boston may have simply been listening to the veterans in order to better understand a defensive scheme or how to fit a run gap, but what he didn’t realize at the time, was that their teaching was also molding his own future leadership style.
“How did they lead me when I was young? How did they pull me to the side and get me going?” Boston said. “How can I run around and show these guys each and every day that I’m going to be an example for these young men?”
Boston’s leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Head coach Matt Rhule praised Boston’s never ending energy and spirit– whether that’s flying around on the field or freestyling on the microphone before team meetings.
“Here’s what I know about Tre Boston: he loves football,” Rhule said in a conference call Monday. “He likes to practice, he likes to play, he likes to talk about football. He’s a professional. He’s exactly the type of guy that I like to coach. He handles his business, is coachable, tries to coach the young guys, mold the young guys, show them what it means to be a pro.”
One way Boston plans on molding the secondary’s newest members is by instilling in them the value of thievery. Anyone who knows the Panthers knows about Thieves Avenue. Back in 2015, Boston and company led the league in interceptions, and as a result, the unit needed a nickname. So, the stretch of lockers housing the Panthers’ defensive backs was dubbed Thieves Avenue, and the secondary has been renewing its lease every year since.
“Guys might come and go, but it’s a lineage that we’re passing down,” Boston said. “As long as I’m here, it’s gonna be here with me. It’s gonna be what we do. We are thieves. We will rob teams of the rock, and we will not give it back.”
One young player who Boston says has bought into the Thieves mentality is Jeremy Chinn, a second-round pick out of Southern Illinois. On draft night, the safety-linebacker hybrid was compared to Clemson standout and eighth-overall pick Isaiah Simmons thanks to his Swiss Army knife-like versatility on defense. So far, Boston says Chinn has lived up to the hype.
“He has a possibility to be the real deal,” Boston said of Chinn. “He reminds me a little bit of (linebacker) Shaq (Thompson) when Shaq first came here. Shaq was the first rookie I had seen where I was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, that guy’s a pro.’ You know, that kid’s gonna be special, and Chinn kind of gives you the feel of being that way.”
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Chinn has the ability to line up at outside linebacker and play in the box, but with a blistering 4.46-second 40-yard dash, he has the speed to match up on wide receivers in the slot, too, playing safety, nickel or dime. Boston said the versatility with Chinn and other defenders will prove to be a huge advantage for the team.
“We can move guys all the way around. We’re never in matchup threats in our defense,” Boston said. “We’re able to move around, guard anybody interchangeably.
No matter who is on the field or where they’re aligned though, Boston knows that one thing will remain the same in Carolina.
“We’re taking fresh loot, I’m letting you know, and we can’t wait,” Boston said. “I think having an identity helps guys come to work every day knowing that this is a brotherhood. We got to hold each other accountable. And we are thieves. What do thieves do? They steal.”
Also check out today’s Zoom press conference with Teddy Bridgewater.