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Panthers LB Tahir Whitehead's in a learning and leading mood
Adds experience to linebacker corps
 
Published Thursday, August 13, 2020 9:50 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

FILE PHOTO
Tahir Whitehead, who spent his first eight NFL seasons with Detroit and Oakland, brings his experience to a young Carolina Panthers defense.

Football is as much about learning as leading for Tahir Whitehead.

Heading into his ninth season in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers linebacker is helping lead a young defense during an unprecedented time in the game. Carolina drafted seven players on defense for the first time in franchise – and the league’s common draft era – history in April. Change is around every corner, from the way the team has to go about training camp due to COVID-19, to changes among players and coaching staff with additions like first-time NFL head coach Matt Rhule and new defensive coordinator in Phil Snow. That’s a lot to throw at a veteran, let alone a rookie.

“For me it’s just taking the time to go over a few things after practice, not rushing off the practice field, understanding that we have to make up for lost time,” Whitehead said.

Rookies did not experience typical spring workouts with the team because of the pandemic and will not play preseason games. For experienced players like Whitehead, that means bringing them up to speed quickly now that they are on the field together.

“At this point, they are just coming in like a deer in the headlights you know, eyes wide open, not knowing exactly what’s going on, but I take it serious being a veteran,” he said, “being a leader to kind of put their minds at ease and get them to understand, ‘look, this is not your first year playing football. Yes, this is your first year in the league, but this isn’t your first year playing football. Go back to your training. All the stuff that you’ve learned over the years since you’ve been playing football, that’s what you rely on. Just go put your mind at ease. Make sure that you put your eyes where you need to be. Focus in on the technique, the details, and just listen to the coaches.

“If I see something that’s not quite right, I chime in. ‘Hey, you might want to tweak this, or do this a little bit differently.’”

Whitehead still has room to grow, too, and on a one-year $2.5 million deal with the Panthers, he is not afraid to take advice from younger players.

“I’m open minded enough to take pointers from them,” Whitehead said. “I’m always eager to learn from others, so I’ll ask them questions. ‘Hey, what are your thoughts about that rep?’ Just to make them feel comfortable to speak on certain things, and not just let guys make mistakes or see something wrong, and  think, ‘oh, well I guess that’s the way that’s supposed to happen.’ No. Ask me questions. I leave the floor open. I don’t care if this is year nine or a rookie. One of my old coaches, Jim Caldwell, used to say, ‘a good idea holds no rank.’ At the end of the day, don’t get caught up in if you’re a 10-year vet, or if you’re a rookie coming in. Everybody has something to say. Everybody has good thoughts. You just have to feed off each other.”

Whitehead replaces All Pro Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker, but he is making the most of still having Kuechly around to pick his brain. Kuechly joined the Panthers staff as a pro scout after announcing his retirement in January.  

“I still take advantage of the fact that Luke is in the building,” said Whitehead, who pointed out they both entered the league in 2012.

Whitehead, who spent the last two seasons with Oakland and was the 2019 Raiders’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, also spent six seasons in Detroit. He’s played 125 games, tallying 593 tackles, five interceptions, and three sacks. His single-season best was 92 solo tackles (125 total) in 2016 for the Lions.

 

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