How one veteran Panthers safety has streamlined communication in a talented secondary

JEFF SINER/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson have become household names for Carolina Panthers fans throughout the Matt Rhule era. But it’s a new arrival who has helped free up that trio’s play in the secondary.

Xavier Woods, a sixth-year veteran safety, signed with the Panthers this offseason after spending last year with the Minnesota Vikings.

A 2017 sixth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, Woods has developed a journeyman reputation during his time in the league. Having spent time in multiple systems, he’s been able to adapt and learn how to attack opposing offenses in different ways.

That experience has also made him a strong communicator on the back end.

“The safeties at any level have to be great communicators,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow said Thursday. “They’ve got to be able to play the run, blitz and play the pass. He’s been able to do all three and he’s a really good communicator, so he’s really good for our defense.”

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back has lined up side-by-side with Chinn through the first three games of the season. With Woods sharing communication duties with linebacker Shaq Thompson, Chinn has been freed up to make plays all over the field, knowing he can trust Woods to clean up if he extends himself too much.

“He adds a lot cause he makes Jeremy’s job easier,” Snow said. “He helps communicate with him and the front, and then him and Shaq communicate real well together. It’s been a good mix.”

And while Woods plays safety, he can also bring some value to the cornerback group. When Jackson went down with a neck injury in the fourth quarter of win over the New Orleans Saints last week, Horn was asked to play more nickel cornerback and safety than his typical afternoon itinerary.

With Woods handling the verbal cues in the secondary and being able to fill voids behind the front seven, Horn was able to take advantage of his versatility in multiple roles. During the fourth quarter, Horn batted a pass in coverage and the ball was picked off by defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

Woods’ presence on the back end, as a support piece, helped Horn play aggressively against New Orleans with that critical pass breakup.

Woods arrived in Carolina with eight interceptions and five forced fumbles on his resume. Through three games with the Panthers, Woods has just nine tackles and a pass breakup.

But like most defenders, his importance goes beyond the box score because of what he can do for everyone else, especially Chinn and Horn.

Said Snow: “He’s been a great addition to our defense.”