CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - To replace an All-Pro linebacker like Luke Kuechly is impossible. New Carolina Panthers linebacker Tahir Whitehead knows that. He just wants to continue the long line of great linebacker play in Panthers history.
“When I watch film, I would normally dive in and watch TD (Thomas Davis) or Luke even Shaq (Thompson), the way they play the game. For me, it’s just being able to get in the Panthers uniform and really continue that," said Whitehead.
Whitehead is an 8 year vet in the NFL as he was drafted by Detroit in 2012 in the 5th round. That’s the same year Kuechly was drafted by the Panthers in the 1st round. But the comparison continues.
They both play inside linebacker. Kuechly had 100 tackles in 8 straight seasons while Whitehead just finished up his 5th straight year of at least 100 tackles in 2019.
And then there is the number that they share. They both wear #59. Whitehead has worn it since coming in the league with the Lions. But he is not sure what number he will wear here since a great player wore it first here in Carolina.
“It would be different for people to see me in that number,” said Whitehead. “But I’m not really too hung up on the number. I’m just ready to go out there and start training, get around the fellas, my teammates, and the coaches.”
In a surprise move back in early March, the Raiders released Whitehead after racking up 108 tackles this past season. A salary cap dump for the Raiders but a solid pick up for a Panthers team looking to plug a huge hole left by Kuechly.
Whitehead hit the market at a terrible time as COVID-19 shut the league down. Free agents have not had the chance to go to facilities and meet up with front office personnel to sell themselves to team.
Maybe the biggest reason Whitehead is here is his past connection with new head coach Matt Rhule.
Whitehead played his college ball at Temple and while he was there, the offensive coordinator was Rhule.
“It could not have worked out any better for me,” said Whitehead. “I was fortunate enough to have a relationship with coach Rhule over the years.”
What sold Whitehead on Rhule a long time ago was something coach did at a Temple practice.
“One practice, we were getting ready for warm ups and then out of nowhere he comes out with a helmet and shoulder pads,” said Whitehead. “I remember looking at him like ‘dang this guy is crazy’. He went out there and just started hitting guys and I was like OK, this is the type of guy you want to have on your team.”
Now Whitehead is once again playing for Rhule and could be a key piece as this team looks to fill some holes left by the departure of 8 starters including the great Luke Kuechly.