The Carolina Panthers’ defense appeared to take two major hits in the offseason with the free-agent departure of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to the Buffalo Bills and the four-game suspension of outside linebacker Thomas Davis for PEDs.

Luke Kuechly doesn’t quite see it that way.

‘Dontari’s big, he’s physical, he takes up space’

The Panthers’ standout middle linebacker believes that Dontari Poe, the defensive tackle the team signed in free agency, will be more than adequate in replacing Lotulelei. Kuechly also thinks Shaq Thompson will do a good job of holding down the fort during Davis’ suspension.

“This offseason we lost Star and everyone was kind of like, ‘We’re going to miss him,'” Kuechly told Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt during the SiriusXM NFL Radio training camp tour stop at Panthers’ camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. “And then you plug a guy like Dontari in and you don’t miss a beat. Dontari’s big, he’s physical, he takes up space. But he’s also very athletic. He’s nimble on his feet, he moves really well. For as big as he is, it’s pretty interesting.”

‘Shaq’s been waiting for this opportunity to kind of step out and play his natural position’

Kuechly believes the Panthers will weather Davis’ absence just fine.

“Luckily, we’ve had Shaq kind of waiting in the wings for the past few years,” Kuechly said. “He’s been a guy that can play outside, he can play inside, he can play off the ball, he can play in the box. He gives us a lot of opportunity to do some really cool things with a guy that can play linebacker and in the slot. Shaq’s been waiting for this opportunity to kind of step out and play his natural position at linebacker and he’s going to get a couple of weeks to kind of show what he’s really got and then we’ll see what happens when Thomas comes back.”

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