At one point during the history of the beloved Carolina Panthers, Roman Harper was a marked man and a target for Panther fans to dislike. Entering his eighth-season in the NFL, Harper is now a player that fans will embrace as he roams the secondary.
The moment that Panther fans turned on Harper occurred in Charlotte during the 2011 season when he plowed into Steve Smith after the play was over. That play was highlighted by Smith high-stepping his way into the end zone, and Harper did not appreciate the showboating. The play was not clean and it drew a lot of scrutiny throughout the league as an embarrassing display of unsportsmanlike conduct by a savvy veteran.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Harper is now sporting the No. 41 jersey for the Panthers. The Panthers’ secondary took a big hit this offseason when safety Mike Mitchell landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Panthers boast an incredible defensive front but needed to improve the back end that was filled with youth and question marks.
Harper’s best years might not be in front of him, but he is happy to be a part of the Panthers’ locker room. Harper is a great add as he can play the run and likes to lay the lumber. He is good at getting under receivers’ skin and disrupting their focus. He can drift in coverage and allows the receiver to get behind him too often, but his negative attributes are no worse than last year’s safeties.
Playing behind such a fearsome defensive line and linebacking group will allow Harper to use his veteran experience fully. A group of players as talented as the front seven are can often cover deficiencies in the defensive backfield.
The question truly becomes if he is still capable of keeping up at a high level against younger talent. Speedy and rangy receivers are spread throughout the league, so Harper will have to focus on keeping the play in front of him. The other question is his antics which have labelled him by some to be a dirty player.
Harper was part of the “Bounty Scandal” that ripped the Saints’ team apart a few seasons ago. He has been known to take “cheap shots” on players, but that facet is not uncommon amongst safeties. There are a few around the league that might hit a little high or look to make the punishing hit versus sound coverage. Harper is in a locker room that is defense-first and already has a persona to define it.
At his age, Harper will not be counted on to be a three-down safety. The emergence in 2013 of Robert Lester at strong safety will allow Lester to come in on passing downs and keep Harper fresh.
Regardless of the emotional feelings towards Harper, his presence will inject a much-needed veteran swagger to Carolina’s defensive backfield. He’s one of those guys that you root against when you’re playing him, but when he’s on your team, you are secretly pulling for him. By the end of 2014, more Panther fans will be pulling for him.