|Tahir Whitehead adds versatility at linebacker for Carolina Panthers|
|Free agent signee can play inside, outside|
|Published Wednesday, April 1, 2020 8:22 am|
|PHOTO | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
|Linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Panthers, played at Temple when Carolina head coach Matt Rhule was an assistant.|
The veteran linebacker can play middle and outside linebacker, and the retirement of Luke Kuechly means someone new will step into that role, regardless of whether it is Whitehead or someone else. Whitehead, an eight-year NFL veteran who signed a one-year $2.5 million deal with the Panthers, isn’t concerned with where he ends up.
“Because I can play any position pretty much, I’m versatile in that sense, [so] it hasn’t really been something that has been wracking my brain,” Whitehead said. “I really didn’t want to reach out to [the coaches], and pin them down like, ‘hey, where am I going to play?’ We’re just pretty much playing it by ear. I know that I’m pretty much comfortable playing inside or outside, so whenever they let me know, ‘hey, we want you to play this,’ then I’m rolling with the flow, and that’s what I’m going to learn, and that’s what I’m going to play.”
The 2019 Oakland Raiders Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee spent six seasons in Detroit, followed by two in Oakland. He has played in 125 games, tallying 593 total tackles, five interceptions, and three sacks. His single-season best was 92 solo tackles (125 total) in 2016 for Detroit.
Whitehead’s only game in Carolina took was in 2014 when the Panthers beat the Lions 24-7. Bank of America Stadium’s atmosphere stuck with him more than the result.
“The atmosphere—that right there, how close-knit of a team they were,” Whitehead said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about being in Carolina. [Former Panthers safety] Mike Adams, he’s one of my close friends. He was just like, ‘man, you’re going to love it there.’ I’ve had multiple people hit me up about how much I’m going to love it there.”
It is a season of change for the Panthers, where elements synonymous with the franchise like quarterback Cam Newton, Kuechly and head coach Ron Rivera are no longer with the franchise. Rivera was replaced by first-time NFL head coach Matt Rhule. Whitehead knows Rhule well from his college days at Temple where Rhule was the offensive coordinator at the time.
“I can’t harp on it enough,” Whitehead said. “He’s a player’s coach. He loves to have fun. He loves to keep guys engaged. He’s animated in a way to keep guys engaged, and make sure that he’s getting the best from his team. At the end of the day, all he really asks from you is accountability and taking ownership of your actions. Just be a man about your stuff, and being around Matt for three years-four years at Temple, that’s what I’ve learned about him. I’m just excited to get a chance to play for him at this level now.”
Whitehead shared a memory of a practice at Temple where Rhule came out and ready to play. That’s the kind of energy Whitehead expects this season.
“We were getting ready for warmups, and out of nowhere he comes out with a helmet and shoulder pads on,” Whitehead laughed. “I remember looking at him like, ‘dang, this guy is crazy. What’s he doing?’ I forget which player it was on the team he was going up against, but I’ll just say, he’s probably about twice Matt’s size, and Matt, he didn’t care. He was like, ‘come on, we’ve gotta show you guys how to get going.’”
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