Could Tahir Whitehead hold the key to victory against the Raiders?

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) Tahir Whitehead
(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) Tahir Whitehead /

The Carolina Panthers picked up former Las Vegas Raider Tahir Whitehead in free agency, but could the linebacker hold the key to an opening day victory?

Tahir Whitehead will begin his journey with the Carolina Panthers by coming up against a familiar foe.

The Carolina Panthers acquired the linebacker in free agency on a one-year, $2.5 million contract that formally ended his time with the Las Vegas Raiders. As fortune would have it, Whitehead will clash heads with his former teammates at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday as being his quest to try and fill the enormous void left by perennial All-Pro Luke Kuechly.

Whitehead was a solid contribution during his two-year stint with the Raiders. This resulted in 234 combined tackles, 168 solo tackles, 15 tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, one forced fumble, and six pass deflections. His play in 2019 earned the player a modest 53.2 grade from Pro Football Focus and was not enough to earn him a new deal with Jon Gruden’s men.

Tahir Whitehead needs to focus on matters with the Carolina Panthers.

This represents a significant opportunity for Whitehead in Carolina. He is linking up with his former coach at Temple in Matt Rhule and should not be impacted too much by a lack of preseason games on the schedule.

Whitehead claimed that he has not been sharing information on their Week 1 opponents “that we didn’t see on film”. But Rhule is keen for the linebacker to focus on his own game rather than trying to get an advantage by what he knows about the system.

"“I want our guys to worry about us. I want Tahir focused as possible on playing great defense, playing our defense, and attacking their offense. I think he’s been very focused all camp, and as you get to know him, that’s really who he is.”"

Whitehead will be one of the few veteran players on a Panthers’ defense that comes into the 2020 season with more than its fair share of questions to answer. Replacing a legendary figure such as Kuechly will not be easy and it remains to be seen whether his lack of productivity in coverage is going to be something that causes concern going forward.

Rhule and the player might have been a bit coy about his influence and inside knowledge. But it is clear that Donte Jackson and others were keen to get the most out of Whitehead as possible before they take the field for a pivotal Week 1 encounter that will tell us plenty about the team’s ability to perform as a unit.

"“(Whitehead) feels it’s his duty to make sure we’re all good. He’s let us know everything that he knows, everything he remembers from the scheme. We’ve definitely been picking his brain, having some long conversations just to try to get even a little bit of an upper hand.”"

This is probably all just smoke and mirrors at this juncture. One player’s familiarity with the opposition is not going to have any real impact once they cross the lines. But this is a good chance for Whitehead to show the Raiders they were wrong not to give him a new deal.

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For the Panthers, this game could set the tone for the entire 2020 season. There is so much uncertainty surrounding this roster that what we see from them on Sunday could be crucial to determining which way the campaign is going to go.