CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are down a coach now, but they're adding one of their top defensive players.
The team activated linebacker Shaq Thompson from the physically unable to perform list Saturday.
He spent his training camp time as a quasi-assistant coach while recovering from an offseason knee procedure. The timeline was always for him to be ready for the regular season opener, and now he'll have a few weeks to get geared up for the Sept. 11 game against the Browns.
He's also grown into a leader in the locker room, not that he wasn't already (he learned from some of the best).
"I think this is a tremendous time for Shaq," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said early in training camp. "When you're sitting in meetings, and you're not evaluating your own performance, you're hearing all the coaching points, or sometimes mentoring the young guys. Your mastery of the defense takes a step forward. I think it's a great chance for Shaq, too, because he's loved by his teammates. He can say things, and guys don't take it personally. I think it's a good chance for him to step back and watch practice. Watch meetings and reinforce standards. Really elevate himself as a leader even more.
"I told him. I said, hey, I'm going to consider you kind of like an assistant coach during this process. We're going to visit. We're going to talk. We're going to do those things. I think this can be really good for him. He played really good football last year. When you watch Shaq, especially when he's healthy, I thought he would play Pro Bowl-caliber football. But he affected games and made plays. What's unfortunate is he's missing some time. I can't wait to see him come back healthy and be able to play, and be able to play a lot longer at the standard he's capable of."
The 28-year-old linebacker, the Panthers' first-round pick in 2015, had one of his best seasons in 2021. Despite missing three games, he was second on the team with 104 tackles, and he had two interceptions.
View photos from after Friday night's game in New England and players and staff from both teams greeted each other.