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Shaq Thompson attacks a different role as Panthers defensive leader
Takes over for Kuechly as vocal force among LBs
 
Published Tuesday, August 11, 2020 9:44 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON
Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, who set a career high with 109 tackles and three sacks in 2019, inherits a larger defensive role with the retirement of Luke Kuechly.

Shaq Thompson has bigger goals than what happens on the field.


The Panthers linebacker put together a career season year last year with 109 tackles and three sacks after signing a contract extension, but was overshadowed by a 5-11 record and one of the NFL’s worst defenses. With running mate Luke Kuechly retired and Carolina restocking under new defensive coordinator Phil Snow, Thompson is taking on a more prominent role.

“A personal goal is to just go out there and be a leader,” Thompson said. “One of my brothers retired last year, and I know he’d probably tell me to step up and be a leader, and that’s what I’m gonna do – for him, myself and this team that we have.”

Six years into his career, Thompson is looking forward. With Snow crafting the defense, Carolina has scrapped the 3-4 hybrid former coach Ron Rivera deployed last year in favor of the traditional 4-3. As a result, Thompson isn’t interested in what was.

“We’ve got a new standard, we got a whole different coaching staff, so we’re gonna go with  their standard and we’re gonna play ball,” he said. “We can’t talk about last year because that’s a different staff, and this is a whole different team. We’ve got new players, we’ve got some old players, but we can’t dwell on how last year went. All we can do is fix this year.”

Preparing for a camp routine that’s built with social distancing at the forefront has been a change, Thompson admits, but it’s necessary.

“It’s just trying to figure out what’s going to happen next,” he said. “When’s the next thing that’s going to happen and just try to be on the right page with the organization and just trying to mix and match with the NFL, so I think the hardest part is on schedule.

”You have come in with different groups and you had a couple more of your time schedule, and make sure they’re on time but once you get through that it’s just like, you gotta wear these monitors and you gotta stay 6 feet apart. That’s probably the easy part, even though you want to be close to your brothers, talk to your brothers and all that stuff but you just got to stay back. That’s probably been the easiest part, and not really too hard. We just always learn how to adapt and adjust.”

With Kuechly retired, the linebacker corps is undergoing a transformation in terms of players and leaders. Where Thompson deferred in the past to Keuechly and Thomas Davis, he acknowledges it’s time to take on a more dominant role along with free agent signee Tahir Whitehead, who played with the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders last year.

“It isn’t that tough on me,” Thompson said. “I knew I knew my place, I knew my leaders were Luke and TD on defense, and now they’re gone and I know they would tell me to step up and be vocal. And so that’s what I’m gonna do this year and I think each position has their leaders.”

Without a slate of preseason games to prepare for the regular season, Thompson isn’t particularly upset over that concession to the COVID-19 pandemic. He isn’t fighting for a roster spot, so he’ll take the respite to pace himself during the run up to opening day.

“The minus is you can’t have the rookies, undrafted guys or first-year, second-year guys and guys that are trying make the team don’t have film to go out there and prove to themselves that they’re capable of staying in this league,” he said. “On the plus [side] is that we get a little more rest before the season. That’s probably the biggest thing but I think it’s a good and bad thing. Depends on who you talk to.”

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