CHARLOTTE – Since he arrived as a first-round pick in 2015, linebacker Shaq Thompson has been striving to approach the incredibly high standard set by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
His stellar performance through training camp suggests he's heading in that direction.
"He's capable of doing all the things we need him to do at the position," linebackers coach Al Holcomb said. "Really, it's about the mental aspect of the game – thinking outside of the box, above the Xs and Os and seeing the big picture. From a communication standpoint, he's done a good job of communicating with Luke and Thomas. All three of them are on the same page and seeing things the same way. As his rep count continues to build up, he'll continue to improve in that area."
Thompson's athletic ability was never a question, and he made some jaw-dropping plays on the ball during camp.
But Holcomb was just as happy, if not more so, about Thompson's willingness to make his voice heard prior to the snap.
"Communication is the key," Holcomb said. "I don't think he feels that he's a rookie anymore. It's incumbent upon him to verbalize and try to make things right."
It should all lead to more playing time for the versatile outside linebacker in 2016.
The Panthers are confident in Thompson's ability to man the nickel position as a hybrid linebacker – like we saw against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship.
"It'll be by game plan based on the personnel that we're playing against. But we feel comfortable putting Shaq on the field in all personnel groupings right now," Holcomb said. "That's the flexibility he gives us from an athletic standpoint. He's smart enough to handle playing in the nickel and the base defense."
The interceptions against quarterback Cam Newton in practice were nice, but Holcomb is eagerly awaiting Thompson's first career interception on game day.
"The thing about Shaq – I get excited every time he's on the field because he has a chance of making a play on the ball," Holcomb said. "And any time he gets his hand on the ball, he has a chance to score."
View photos of practice from the third week of preseason.