Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson flashes potential

Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson (54) heads upfield as he returns an interception during the morning practice Tuesday in Spartanburg. It was first play during camp where Thompson, hampered by a hamstring injury, has flashed his potential.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson (54) heads upfield as he returns an interception during the morning practice Tuesday in Spartanburg. It was first play during camp where Thompson, hampered by a hamstring injury, has flashed his potential. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson still hasn’t had his “Welcome to the NFL” moment, but he was finally able to introduce himself to his teammates and coaches on the field.

Thompson had his best play as a member of the Panthers Tuesday when he intercepted a Derek Anderson pass near the goal line, showing some of the instincts and athleticism that led Carolina to selecting him in the first round of the draft.

Thompson drifted back toward the goal line, read Anderson’s eyes and stepped in front of a pass intended for Brenton Bersin. Thompson returned the ball to about the 30-yard line before stepping out of bounds as Anderson gave chase.

“First of all, the quickness in his break,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, describing the play. “Playing with the vision that he has, the athleticism showed in terms of being able to plant and drive, undercut the ball and make the interception.

“Plus, he’s got great hands.”

Thompson missed most of rookie camp, organized team activities and minicamp with a hamstring injury as well as staying at Washington to work on his degree. He’s been limited for most of training camp with the same strained hamstring and Tuesday was his first full day back.

“It was good to have Shaq back on the field and practicing, doing things he’s capable of,” Rivera said. “We’ve got to be smart with our guys right now, especially guys that are coming off hamstrings and lower-back tightness just because it’s going to happen this time of the year.

“But the nice thing about having Shaq out there is you see his abilities, you see him do the things that you need out of him, especially for situational football.”

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