Roman Harper and Robert Lester never played together during their years at Alabama. Harper was on the team from 2002-2005, having a great career and being named to the All-SEC teams for his junior and senior season. Lester was in Tuscaloosa more recently, finishing his career with the Crimson Tide in 2012 after starting for three seasons and winning three national championships. Now the two have been brought together by the Carolina Panthers with Lester backing up Harper at the strong safety position. We continue our look at former Alabama players now in the NFL with the veteran starter and the learning second-string.
Roman Harper, Carolina Panthers, Strong Safety
6’1″, 205 pounds
4 years, $9.07 million
Roman Harper is now entering his 10th season in the NFL and his second season in Carolina. Harper has become a respected veteran player across the league and his numbers show why. Harper started his career with the Saints and he became a starter in his second season. During his time in New Orleans, Harper had 17.0 sacks, 7 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles and one touchdown. He made two Pro Bowl appearances in 2009 and 2010 and he helped lead the Saints to a Super Bowl win in the 2009 season. He started 94 games from 2007 to 2012 before suffering a knee injury in 2013 causing him to be inactive for the team’s final seven games. After his injuries, the Saints released Harper and it only took one month for another team to pounce.
The Panthers signed Harper to a five-year deal worth $10.6 million in March 2014 and Harper seems to be loving his time in Carolina. The Panthers used Harper more in coverage and less on the blitz, unlike New Orleans. Harper finished the 2014 regular season with 10 pass deflections, four interceptions, one forced fumble and a touchdown. He added 62 tackles and a sack. Harper also started both playoff games for Carolina, including the historic game against Arizona where Harper helped the Panther defense hold the Cardinals to a NFL playoff record 74 yards of total offense.
In 2015, Harper is once again listed as the starter at strong safety for the Panthers. He will be the veteran leader of a young secondary that is constantly getting better. The Panthers also added veteran cornerback Peanut Tillman who has spent the last 12 seasons with the Bears. In the preseason, Harper has recorded three total tackles. The Panthers next game is at home on Friday against the Patriots.
Robert Lester, Carolina Panthers, Strong Safety
6’1″, 215 pounds
1 year, $585K
Lester had a fantastic career in Tuscaloosa, starting 40 games for the Crimson Tide and recording 14 interceptions. He was a large part of all three defenses that helped Alabama win three national championships in four years. Lester went undrafted after his senior season and has yet to see significant playing time at Carolina. The former Tide safety has been passed back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster. After being signed by the Panthers before the 2013 season, Lester was given four starts and playing time in 12 games. He made the most of it, recording 21 total tackles, four pass deflections, three interceptions and a forced fumble. Lester even got to see playing time in Carolina’s 2013 playoff game against San Francisco. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the same exposure last season. Lester played in just two games for the Panthers in 2014 and was activated for the win over Arizona but didn’t get on the field.
Lester is looking to have a more productive year in 2015 and will be following Harper’s leadership to get better. Lester is listed as the backup strong safety and should see more playing time this season and in the future. Lester is in the final year of his contract but a good impression this year could see him back to take Roman Harper’s starting spot in the next few seasons. Lester has seen some playing time this preseason, recording three tackles against Miami last weekend.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.