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 SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -Before heading into retirement, Mike Minter had a message for the Carolina Panthers' newest safety, Chris Harris.
``He let me know I needed to step it up in the secondary with him being gone,'' Harris said Wednesday. ``He was just telling me I've got to be the leader out there and make all the calls.''
Harris has been a Panther for only a week, but is confident he can take over Minter's role of leading the secondary - even though he's still learning the playbook.
``I'm trying to get more vocal now,'' Harris said. ``Even if I make a wrong call, as long as we all play that wrong call, we'll be good.''
Harris, who turned 25 Monday, was acquired last week from Chicago for a fifth-round draft pick. It was thought Harris would play strong safety ahead of the inexperienced Nate Salley, and Minter would be the free safety and traffic cop in the secondary.
But with Minter announcing his retirement on Tuesday and Salley sitting out practice with a knee injury, Harris has become the most experienced safety on the roster. And Carolina's defense runs through the lead safety.
``The safety is pretty much like the captain back there in the secondary,'' Harris said. ``If something goes wrong, the finger is getting pointed at the safety.''
Harris has been scrambling to learn the playbook and the defensive calls since he arrived at training camp.
``It's a little more complex to what we did out in Chicago,'' Harris said. ``I like this defense. It's a good defense and it puts you in position to make plays.''
The Panthers will likely need Harris, who started 20 games in two seasons with the Bears, to make plenty of plays. Salley, who hasn't practiced in a week, has never played a snap at safety in the NFL.
Deke Cooper, who was working with the first team at free safety Wednesday alongside Harris, spent most of last season out of the league. Behind him are rookie C.J. Wilson and Cam Newton, who has played in nine NFL games.
Still, Harris doesn't think they need to bring in another safety.
``We're going to have a good secondary,'' Harris said. ``Nate Salley, he's a good player, from what I've heard. He's been injured, so I haven't had a chance to see him. Deke's a good player. He knows the system and he's been here before. And with the rookies we have, I think we'll have enough firepower at the safety position to get it done this year.''
Harris, who became expendable in Chicago because of the Bears' depth at safety, has made a good early impression on coach John Fox.
``I think the fact that he has started in this league and knows what the NFL is all about, the schedules, the playbooks, everything, he's a student of the game,'' Fox said. ``We threw him out there, and he hasn't stuck out, which is a good thing.''
At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Harris is bigger and heavier than Minter, and he had five interceptions in two seasons with Chicago.
Harris has the credentials to become the leader of the secondary, but he's a little uncomfortable taking over for one of the franchise's most popular players.
``Those are some huge shoes to fill. You can't replace a Mike Minter,'' Harris said. ``After watching him play, he can't be replaced. But I plan on coming in and doing my best and offering this team everything I have and continue to make plays.''

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