Panthers depth chart focus: Shaq Thompson leads new LB room

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson /
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Just what can the Carolina Panthers expect from their linebacker corps when a hugely important 2022 season gets underway this fall?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Carolina Panthers are still one of the youngest franchises in the NFL. As a result, they are still figuring out its identity.

Under the ownership of Jerry Richardson, the plan was at least clearer than it’s been since David Tepper purchased the team. The Panthers founder made it no secret that he marveled over the consistent and sustained success of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he used this esteemed model as a blueprint in the construction of his own franchise.

Richardson, a firm believer in the famous mantra that “defense wins championships,” put his trust in leaders that garnered experience coaching the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers have collected six Super Bowls under three different Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches – Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin – each established an impressive resume of pedigree on defense before landing as a head coach.

It’s not a weird coincidence that Carolina’s first-ever head coach, Dom Capers, was Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator before being tabbed by Richardson to be the organization’s inaugural man at the helm.

Between Capers, George Seifert, John Fox, and Ron Rivera, Richardson solely hired coaches that ground their way through the coaching ranks on the defensive side of the ball.

While the Panthers are yet to hoist a Lombardi Trophy, they’ve still enjoyed some successful seasons highlighted by four appearances in the NFC Championship Game and two in the Super Bowl.

When looking at the greatest teams the Panthers have fielded in their 27-year history, one commonality stands out amongst each unique group: each squad boasted world-class linebacker play. Between Sam Mills, Dan Morgan, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly, Carolina’s short history has been defined by elite linebackers.

Since Kuechly’s abrupt retirement at the conclusion of the 2019 season, the team has not lived up to the organizational expectation of dominant linebacker play established by the franchise’s legendary predecessors. In fact, the position has been more of a revolving door since Matt Rhule entered the building.

Rhule’s nonchalant approach to the position is far from a radical strategy.

The decline in value of the linebacker in the modern NFL has been well-documented. But this remains a unit that Carolina would benefit from improving.

After a number of new additions to the linebacker room in the offseason, Rhule and company will be crossing their fingers that this unit will take a much-needed step forward in 2022.