Carolina Panthers: Can Shaq Thompson become the leader on defense?

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson
(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson /

Can Shaq Thompson emerge as a leader on defense for the Carolina Panthers following the shock retirement of linebacker Luke Kuechly?

The Carolina Panthers lost their inspirational leader on defense this offseason when linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his shock retirement. Although this decision was made for the right reasons. It does not detract from just what a substantial blow this is for the organization.

Kuechly is staying around after the Carolina Panthers appointed him as a pro scout. But his loss on the field is going to be especially evident during this first year of transition. Others will need to step up and fill the void. And one man that is keen to take on this particular role is Shaq Thompson.

The former first-round pick out of Washington has been a revelation during his time in Carolina. Over his five-year stint in the NFL so far, Thompson has amassed 355 combined tackles, 255 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception, 12 pass deflections, and 29 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits.

With so many veterans leaving the Panthers over the free agency period. The onus will be on Thompson and others to guide this young and relatively inexperienced group going forward. It promises to be a real baptism of fire for the defense during a strong looking schedule. But it’s clear that Thomspon is relishing the prospect of emerging as the defensive focal point following Kuechly’s retirement.

"“I’m still hurting to this day about that one. I lost a great friend, a brother, just a great teammate overall. Luke taught me a lot in my five years, just playing alongside of him and just playing and just learning from him. I’m gonna go out there and try my best. Luckily, we still have him in the organization, in the office. So he can probably come down and show us things and stuff like that. So he’ll still be around to help out with any questions, any football things on and off the field. So, we’re glad to have him. But I gotta step up as the last linebacker [of that] trio that we had with Thomas Davis and Luke. So I gotta step up and fill that role and be that leader.”"

Can Shaq Thompson become a defensive leader for the Carolina Panthers?

There is nothing to suggest that Thompson is not more than ready for this type of responsibility. Outside of Kawann Short and Tre Boston, he is the one with the most experience in the NFL out of this current group. And the coaching staff will be depending on him.

Not much is expected of the Carolina Panthers in 2020. They are going through the initial stages of a prominent rebuild. But that does not mean they couldn’t surprise people if everything comes together quickly.

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Their offense is expected to put some considerable points on the board under Joe Brady. So it will be up to the defense to hold their own in the face of stern competition to give Carolina a fighting chance.

That is probably going to be easier said than done. But if the group can show progress as the campaign goes on. It will stand them in good stead in pursuit of becoming a contender in the future.

Thompson is going to play a huge part in any success that comes the Panthers’ way. He is coming off a season where he notched 109 combined tackles, 75 solo tackles, three sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. And if this extra responsibility enables the player to reach new heights, then a Pro Bowl appearance is not entirely out of the question.

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