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Jeremy Chinn absorbed the lessons of Panthers' legends

Jeremy Chinn

CHARLOTTE – The room was full of family, and friends, and former co-workers.

Some of the older guys on the current team were there, with Shaq Thompson and JJ Jansen among the few players on the active roster who actually suited up with Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen.

But tucked away on one side of the room as Davis and Olsen signed their ceremonial contracts to retire with the Panthers was one guy who barely knew them — but knew he needed to be there to see it all happen.

He sat quietly, off to himself in the socially-distanced hall, spending most of the ceremony leaning forward in his seat, eyes locked on the podium, absorbing every word, actively listening to what was unfolding in front of him.

For linebacker Jeremy Chinn, it was important to take in the past — since he could well be the future of the Panthers in many of the same ways Davis and Olsen led their teams.

"When you come in here, you see what these guys mean to the organization," Chinn said of the retiring legends. "But just to see what these guys mean to the organization, it's inspiring to me. It's encouraging to see the guys who built this team to what it was, and the level they brought it to."

Chinn gets compared to Davis a lot, primarily because of the position-less nature of their arrivals to the NFL.

Davis was a safety at Georgia who could run and hit, but bounced around a bit before settling into a job at linebacker and making it his own. Chinn was a safety at Southern Illinois, and became a linebacker out of a bit of necessity, and was lining up all over the field by the end of the season.

For Panthers defensive run game coordinator Al Holcomb, it wasn't a surprise to see Chinn in the audience for the event. Holcomb coached Davis, and helped tutor Chinn through a productive rookie year, so Holcomb sees several layers of similarities between them.

"It didn't surprise me in the least to see Jeremy there," he said. "He's a team guy, just like TD was for all those years.

"He's a guy who cares about his teammates, but for a young guy, he also has a real respect for the history of the game."

Holcomb laughed, and admitted that he has referred to Davis a lot in his education of Chinn — again, the football similarities are hard to miss. But it doesn't stop with the fact they play multiple positions, or have a knack for making impact plays.

"There are some personality differences," Holcomb said. "But they're both super-competitive people who want to prove it to people every day.

"They both have a distinct leadership quality about them. Thomas grew into his over time, and really became one of the vocal people in that locker room. Jeremy's trying to learn right now, to see where he fits in."

Chinn said he actually had the opportunity to work out with Davis a few times before last season started, a chance to look into a version of his own future, to see what needed to happen to be the kind of player Davis always was.

"So I got to know what his work ethic was all about," Chinn said.

Expectations can be weighty things, so putting too much on Chinn as he goes into his second NFL season (without the benefit of normal non-pandemic offseasons or training camp) could be dangerous. After all, all Thomas Davis did was become the first player to overcome three torn ACLs, who would go onto three Pro Bowls afterward, and eventually be named the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year.

As brightly as Chinn shined during his rookie season, he needs to stack another decade or so of seasons like that to truly be a Thomas Davis-type of player.

But seeing him in the audience was a reminder that for the number of great players in the not-too-distant past (Hey look, over there's Luke Kuechly), the Panthers are very much in a passing-of-the-torch moment.

The event would have likely been much bigger, and full of even more admirers if not for COVID-19 precautions, but Chinn said as soon as he found out he was allowed to attend, he made sure to be there. He's not asking to be declared the next Davis — or the next anyone — but there was absolutely something symbolic about his presence there last week.

"I definitely do feel a little of that," Chinn said. "Not that I need to be them, or anything like that. But just seeing the emotion they have here today, and what it meant to them, you feel that.

"I'm not necessarily trying to be like someone else, but there's definitely a lot you can take away from the way people talk about them, how they carry themselves, you can always learn things. Even the small amount of time that I have spent from TD, I learned so much from him. It means a lot."

We're years away from knowing what Chinn's eventual impact on the Panthers and the NFL will be.

What we do know is that he's chosen role models well, and that he's paying attention to every detail.

View photos from Bank of America Stadium as Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen returned to sign one-day contracts and retire as Carolina Panthers.

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