Carolina Panthers

Panthers name Shaq Thompson as Week 1 starter at strongside linebacker

Rookie Shaq Thompson (54) will start at outside linebacker in the Carolina Panthers’ season opener at Jacksonville, and he’ll continue to learn on the fly.
Rookie Shaq Thompson (54) will start at outside linebacker in the Carolina Panthers’ season opener at Jacksonville, and he’ll continue to learn on the fly. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

With all of Thursday’s attention on linebacker Luke Kuechly, another linebacker got the starting nod.

Rookie outside linebacker Shaq Thompson was named the likely starter at the SAM linebacker position, which normally lines up on the side of the line that the opposing tight end is on.

Thompson had been listed on the depth chart behind A.J. Klein at that position, and it’s possible Klein gets the start, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. Klein would likely start if it’s an obvious run situation.

Thompson missed a large chunk of the preseason with finishing school at the University of Washington and battling hamstring injuries. He played in three exhibitions after missing the first in Buffalo.

“You always want more reps, even if he had taken all the reps from spring until now, you’ll always want more from an experience standpoint,” Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “He’s going to make mistakes. That’s all part of the learning process and that learning curve, but it’s important that he plays fast. Good things happen when you play fast.”

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