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Jeremy Chinn excited to play 'closer to the action' on Panthers team ready to compete in 'wide open' NFC South

Jeremy Chinn has always kept a list of his goals in the notes app on his phone. But heading into an ever-important contract year, he's taking a different approach -- writing down his goals on paper.

"I'm going to put that list next to my bed and on my fridge," the safety said in a Wednesday interview with "I think it's better to have more concrete versions of them. Being conscious of my goals, keeping them in the front of the mind and doing everything I can to move in that direction is something I'm focusing on."

Those goals? NFC Defensive Player of the Week and Month honors, making the Pro Bowl and earning an All-Pro nod were top of mind -- a list the fourth-year Carolina Panther rattled off without hesitation. Each feels within reach for Chinn, especially after the Panthers signed free agent safety Vonn Bell, allowing him to play closer to the line of scrimmage more often under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

Last season, the hybrid defender, who registered 70 tackles while missing six games to injury, played just 26 percent of his snaps in the box, down from 52 percent in 2021 and 41 percent in 2020. Chinn's most effective campaign came in 2021, earning career-high PFF grades in overall defense (71.4), run defense (62.5), tackling (70.4) and coverage (74.3).

"It's something I'm super excited about, being closer to the action," said Chinn, who shared his enthusiasm on social media about the Bell signing once it was official. "It allows me to use my speed and physicality to make plays on the ball."

The NFC South was within reach late in the 2022 season for the seven-win Panthers, yet ultimately, they found themselves sitting in second behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when it was all said and done. Chinn added there's been a hard reset heading into 2023 with the team bringing in a new coaching staff and overhauling a roster that will welcome a new quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft.

"We have an opportunity in this division. It's wide open," said Chinn, whose Panthers haven't made the postseason since 2017. "It was open last year and we missed our mark, but I feel like we have the pieces to make it happen.

"It does fuel us but at the same time, we want to win regardless of what happened last year. That's the energy around this team and it starts at the top. We see the mentality coming into the season. We want to win now."

When it comes to who the Panthers select with the first overall pick, Chinn trusts Panthers brass to draft the right QB to lead this team. That trust comes from the foundation that new coach Frank Reich has built with returning players and the role he's had in signing a number of playmakers in free agency, including Miles Sanders, Adam Thielen, Hayden Hurst and Shy Tuttle, among others.

"He's a player's coach," Chinn said. "Talking to him, he believes in the leaders and captains of this team to run the locker room, and he's already forming a relationship of respect and trust between him and the players.

"We've had a really good offseason and I know they are taking a lot of time to get that pick right and make the right decision."

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