CHARLOTTE — There's a point in time when players go from being a young guy to a veteran presence and leader.
Heading into his sixth season, linebacker Shaq Thompson is at that moment in his career. But that doesn't mean he's taking anything for granted.
"There's people behind me who want my spot, and I need to go out there and earn a spot," Thompson said Monday. "Nothing is set in stone."
Still, given Luke Kuechly's retirement, Thompson knows he will need to be more vocal in 2020. He's trying to lead by example, following Kuechly's path.
"Luke wasn't a rah-rah guy, but when he needed to speak up, his presence was felt," Thompson said. "That's kind of how I've followed in the same way behind him."
Thompson may emulate some aspects of what Kuechly did, but he's not trying to be Kuechly. He's even had a conversation with the retired linebacker about that and came to a conclusion.
"I'm not (Thomas Davis), I'm not Luke — I'm Shaq," Thompson said. "So he told me to go out there and be Shaq. Play like Shaq. So that's what I'm going to do — I'm going to go play like Shaq."
He'll play like Shaq and lead like Shaq, which requires him to mentor Carolina's rookies. There's a lot they don't know given the cancelations of the in-person offseason program and preseason games. So Thompson is doing his best to prepare the young players for what's to come.
"Just going off experience, I've told them things are going to happen fast. Just the nature of the game, how the transition happens from college to the NFL, it just happens fast," Thompson said. "But as long as you know the game and understand your technique and what you're supposed to do, your assignments and stuff like that, then it'll start slowing down.
"These guys are smart. All these rookies, they're doing a great job just buying in and listening to the vets. They're going to be tremendous out there come Week 1."
Thompson isn't alone at linebacker as a mentor. Tahir Whitehead has spent eight seasons in the NFL, and there are things even Thompson wants to learn from him.
"It's an honor to be able to play with him and go out and share that field and this locker room," Thompson said. "I can take notes and learn from him and help him lead by example."
Thompson thought the acclimation period to start camp was good, getting everyone on the same page in terms of conditioning. Plus, that time allowed rookies to better understand what they were asked to do. Now that they're all on the field, Thompson thinks head coach Matt Rhule's up-tempo practices can help accelerate the rookies' adjustment.
"He's making our practices game-like since we don't have preseason," Thompson said. "Coach Rhule is doing a great job getting us ready and prepared for how the season is going to look."
Generally, Thompson has also liked what coordinator Phil Snow has brought to the defense.
"He's a guy that wants us all to run to the ball," Thompson said. "There's no solo tackles, it's all gang tackles and stuff like that. There's no loafing on the field, which I love. He's going to be on our tails about that and just getting to the ball. So he's doing a great job dialing stuff up for us, teaching us, and making us understand the logic of football — what football should be about and how the game should be played."
Thompson has learned plenty about those aspects of the game from the linebackers who came before him. Now, he'll assist Rhule and Snow in passing them down to the younger players on defense and the Panthers as a whole.
NEWS AND NOTES
— There is a real competition going on for starting cornerback opposite Donte Jackson. Rhule named T.J. Green, Eli Apple, and Troy Pride Jr. as players who have already received a shot at the spot. He mentioned Corn Elder as another player who could be in the mix. But there is another role up for grabs at nickel corner. We'll see if any of the players can soon start to separate himself from the pack.
— Jackson has impressed his new head coach in camp so far.
"I think he can be a difference-maker," Rhule said. "I think he can run plays down and punch balls out and all that. I don't want him just to think of himself as a cover guy. I also want him to grow and try to make plays on the ball from the other guys."
— Though Thompson some practice time with groin tightness, he said he's feeling 100 percent now.
— Rhule said he has an idea of what he'd like the opening 53-man roster to look like when cuts are due at the end of training camp. But that vision is what he thinks today. He fully acknowledged that players have a lot of time to have their stock rise or fall before the season starts.
— Carolina plans to play Efe Obada as an edge player for teams that use a fullback or two tight ends. But for teams who play more formations with three wide receivers, the club plans to kick him inside to defensive tackle.
— Finally, Thompson admitted the upcoming election will be the first time he casts a vote. He recently registered to vote for the first time.
"Growing up, I wasn't taught to vote. I wasn't taught that my vote counts. So just hearing it, understanding that your vote does matter — it (makes) a difference," Thompson said. "It makes me want to reach out to guys back in my community and tell them to vote, and get a whole pamphlet out and try to teach them and understand — your vote does matter."
For more information on registering to vote and the upcoming election, you can visit the webpage for the Panthers' Your Vote Counts initiative by clicking here.
View photos from Monday's practice on the practice fields and Atrium Health Dome.