SPARTANBURG – When asked for a breakout candidate entering the 2019 season, linebacker Luke Kuechly didn't hesitate.
"Shaq," he said.
It seems like Shaq Thompson, the Panthers' first-round pick in 2015, has been on the cusp of breaking out for years.
But this year is noticeably different.
"It's a great opportunity for Shaq now," Kuechly said. "He's waited patiently for a long time. I think the team has decided now is his time."
The decision this offseason to move on from longtime linebacker Thomas Davis, as hard as that was and still is, made that clear.
"I'm gonna miss TD. That's my guy since I've been here," Thompson said. "I'm always going to go back to TD and ask him for pointers."
But with Davis now suiting up for the Chargers, the door is wide open for Thompson to flourish in all situations. Upon arriving at training camp, head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that he's looking for several players to step up in the wake of some notable departures. The talented Thompson just might top the list.
"I was blessed to learn behind Thomas and get the knowledge from him," Thompson said. "Now it's time to come out here and put it to the test."
The 3-4 defense suits Thompson well. He's playing behind a loaded defensive front and playing next to an all-time great. His teammates and coaches believe he checks all the boxes.
It's his time.
"They're putting me in position to make plays, but it's on me to make the plays," Thompson said. "I have to be there to make it."
View photos of Panthers players arriving at Wofford College for 2019 training camp.