There's been a lot on Tahir Whitehead's mind lately.
The middle linebacker knows he has a significant role to fill, replacing the recently retired Luke Kuechly as the quarterback of Carolina's defense. Whitehead and his family will soon head to Charlotte from Atlanta — another move after Whitehead spent the last two seasons in Oakland after starting his career in Detroit. Plus, there is not yet a clear plan finalized for training camp and the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whitehead, a parent of four, including a three-month-old son, admits he's concerned about the current state of the world. But he feels the league and NFL Players' Association will come together to protect players as much as possible.
"This is coming up on us fast. We're gonna see. I think that's the only thing we can do at this point — just wait and see," Whitehead said last week. "Just make sure that you're taking care of yourself, you're doing all of the social distancing stuff when you're going out in public, wearing your mask, washing your hands, using sanitizer and all that good stuff.
"Some people are out here and just not being responsible, and it's just sad because you have a ton of people who are doing things the right way. But then the people who are just not taking this serious, they're gonna be the ones that make this pandemic and everything last a lot longer than what's necessary."
The virus has already significantly impacted Whitehead's acclimation to his new team. Heading into his ninth NFL season, Whitehead has started 86 games through his six years with the Lions and two with the Raiders, starting all 16 games the last three seasons. He spent most of 2019 as Oakland's defensive signal-caller, following linebacker Vontaze Burfict's 12-game suspension for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit.
But even with Whitehead's extensive experience, he missed aspects of an in-person offseason program.
"Believe it or not, nothing beats the on-field reps — nothing," Whitehead said.
He then shared an example about repping plays where he has to get hands on a shifty 5-foot-11 wide receiver in the slot. Then, Whitehead still needs to read the quarterback's eyes as another receiver comes across his face over the middle. But at the same time, a receiver in the flat could distract from an intermediate route at the second level.
"From a concept standpoint, I've been able to grasp the defense's scheme as far as what we're doing," Whitehead said. "But I think you definitely need those reps. And being on a new team with a bunch of new guys, you definitely want to have that to be able to get on the same page."