Tom Sorensen

Short takes: Steve Smith’s courage; Panthers’ speed; helmet rule; Shaq Thompson

Former Panthers and Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s letter that acknowledged he battled depression should encourage others to seek help they need.
Former Panthers and Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s letter that acknowledged he battled depression should encourage others to seek help they need. AP

At 5-9, former Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith Sr. was always as tough as any player on the field. We’ve long known that he played angry. He released a letter he wrote that acknowledged he battled depression, and saw a therapist to help him deal with it. To release the letter courage was required. Could be a letter that will encourage others to acknowledge the illness and seek help for it. …

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Every NFL team will play this week. Fans try to watch when the starters leave. For the reserves on the edge of the depth chart, the exhibition will be one of the most important games they’ll play. How does the receiver that wasn’t drafted distinguish himself? He plays hard, and intelligently, and well. …

I like what I’ve seen in the Carolina Panthers’ training camp. They could put together a fine relay team. I’m not aware of ever seeing a Carolina team with as much speed. Rookie Dante Jackson, the second-pick out of Louisiana State, has instant acceleration. You might beat him, but before the ball arrives he is likely to run you down. The man can move. …

The updated NFL rule that prevents players from leading with their helmets will lead to a lot of preseason penalties. Players have long used their helmets to block and tackle, and the practice will take several games to unlearn. A player no longer can initiate contact with his head.

As confused as players might be, this was a rule the NFL had to apply. Every year the league – and the rest of us – learns more about concussions, and the long-term impact concussions can lead to.

What’s the alternative to the new rule? There is none. Players will complain, and many fans will. But football players are not mere performers. They live lives off the field. Players will figure it out, fans will accept it, and game officials will throw their flags. At least at the beginning of the season, they might throw more than the quarterbacks. …

We’ve written about some of the plays Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson has made in training camp. To see a linebacker slap the ball out of the air with one hand and catch it with the other is impressive.

We’ve long been aware of the potential of Thompson, whom the Panthers selected in the first round of the 2015 draft. This is a man who played wherever he wanted at Washington, including running back.

Linebacker Thomas Davis wasn’t always Thomas Davis. Time often is required before players excel. So far, we’ve seen only glimpses of Thompson’s talent. Maybe this will be the season in which we see his whole game.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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