Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly laughed after last week’s preseason victory against Miami that “nobody blocked Shaq (Thompson)” on a big second-down tackle-for-loss straight up the Dolphins’ gut.
Well, nobody from New England got the memo this week, either.
Thompson blew up the middle of the Patriots offensive line twice in Friday night’s 25-14 preseason Panthers victory for two tackles-for-loss.
“He’s sneaky,” laughed Kuechly. “He does a great job. I think everybody’s always kind of wondered what Shaq would bring to the linebacker position. And I think everybody is starting to see it.
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“He’s smart. He can play Sam (strong-side linebacker), Mike (middle linebacker) and Will (weak-side linebacker). He can play nickel. He can play safety if he wanted to.”
Thompson will start in place of veteran Thomas Davis for the first four games of the season as Davis serves his NFL-issued suspension.
Thompson’s made so many athletic and momentum-swinging plays for Carolina in the last few weeks that it’s certainly clear he’s ready for the role.
But Thompson often jokes that what he really wants to do, however, is get a few carries at running back, like he did as an all-purpose player at Washington.
“He needs to get some picks, and then he’ll get the ball!” Kuechly joked.
The two combined well as a tandem against New England, especially in the red zone.
In fact, Kuechly had three tackles and a pass breakup on third down with the Patriots knocking on the door of the end zone in the second quarter. And the defense as a whole held New England quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to two field-goal attempts in the first half, one of which was missed.
Kuechly played one half and recorded seven tackles.
The Panthers defense has allowed only two touchdowns the last two weeks, holding New England to 50 percent red-zone efficiency (1 for 2) and Miami to 25 percent (1 for 4).
Like Miami last week, the Patriots’ second- and third-team offense did score a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Panthers’ own second- and third-team defense. But head coach Ron Rivera has been pleased with Carolina’s ability to make stops.
“We’ve been good with it so far this preseason, and hopefully it carries over into the regular season,” he said. “They did some nice things down there. And when you do that, you give yourselves a chance to win.”