CHARLOTTE – Kamu Grugier-Hill has been on many teams, made a good number of plays, and played a couple of different positions since his NFL career started eight seasons ago.
The 29-year-old linebacker is in his sixth spot at Carolina, and even though he came on in April, Grugier Hill said his teammates have told him it’s like he’s been here for a couple of years.
Thompson, the veteran and second-longest tenured Panther on the current roster, bonded quickly with Grugier-Hill. The two practiced alongside each other and fostered a strong connection throughout training camp while Grugier-Hill worked behind the starter.
Monday night, everyone in that locker room hurt for Thompson, a four-time team captain, after he fell injured with a season-ending fractured fibula.
And it stung for Grugier-Hill, the player who came in to fill in behind him against New Orleans.
“My heart breaks for Shaq,” he said. “I was in a mindset of just getting him ready every game, and just being there for him and being that support system for him. So now that we’re in this situation, he’s doing the same for me. We’re in constant communication, and it’s been good to see the guys rally around it and give me the trust and confidence I need.”
Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and head coach Frank Reich haven’t fully committed to giving Grugier-Hill the spot full-time. Evero said Grugier-Hill could take on a rotational role with fellow veteran linebacker Deion Jones or Chandler Wooten for the future.
However, he did impress in his extended time against the Saints, coming up with a big sack against New Orleans quarterback Derek Carr.
But more factors are at play with such a versatile contributor as Grugier-Hill. Before Thompson’s injury, Grugier-Hill earned a spot as a valuable player on special teams.
Carving out precisely what he’ll do, and how much of it, is part of evaluating his usage.
“Kamu is also such a great special teams contributor, so we’ve just got to weigh out how we’re going to approach that,” Reich said. “But I want to give Kamu all the credit he deserves for how he stepped in there and played. So if he plays every (defensive) snap, he’s earned it, you know what I mean? And if we end up deciding to rotate anybody through there, it’s only because we’re trying to do what’s best for the team as far as making the best use of all of our players.”
Grugier-Hill is no stranger to playing any role he’s tasked with, as he has kept multiple tools in his arsenal throughout his career – including (but not limited to) kickoff specialist, special teams contributor, linebacker, safety, and even some long snapping during training camp this year.
He’s been versatile from the beginning of his athletic journey, playing soccer, baseball, volleyball, and even wrestling before starting football his senior year of high school at Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu.
“I’ve honestly played so many different sports, and I’ve been super competitive my whole life in everything I try and do,” Grugier-Hill said. “I mean, we get on this ping pong table (in the locker room), and I’m trying to go crazy, right? I don’t know. I just have fun doing the little things, to mess around kicking, messing around snapping, just learning different skills and stuff. I think that’s kind of just how it unfolds.”
He was originally a 2016 sixth-round draft pick by New England out of Eastern Illinois but was waived at final cuts. The Eagles picked him up off waivers, and he spent four seasons there in special teams and defensive roles.
Grugier-Hill filled in on kickoffs in a game with the Eagles in 2017 after kicker Jake Elliott left with a concussion, helping Philadelphia win over Dallas, 37-9. He won a Super Bowl with that team, which also employed Reich as offensive coordinator and Panthers assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley as their running backs coach.
He played with the Dolphins in 2020 and Houston in 2021, starting in a career-best 14 games and 108 tackles that season, adding two forced fumbles, three pass break-ups, an interception, and three sacks. He spent the last part of the 2022 season with the Cardinals before coming to Carolina this offseason.
To date, Grugier-Hill has played in 100 games with 288 tackles, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and six sacks.
One of those sacks was the one against Carr, which immediately showed Grugier-Hill’s ability on defense.
“I’ve worked with Kamu before … he’s played some football,” Reich said. “I’ve gone up against him, coached against him when he was a starting linebacker for Houston. So I have a lot of respect for what he did (against New Orleans).”
Grugier-Hill and Luvu, a duo called “Pineapple Express” by teammates, flashed a celebration based on Luvu’s Siva Tau chant on Monday Night Football. Grugier-Hill said they came up with it in training camp, and the two have been training together in the offseason for four years in Arizona.
Luvu said he was excited to welcome Grugier-Hill to the team and impressed with what he saw from him in Thompson’s position.
“I knew Kamu coming in from Philadelphia and Houston; man, he’s like (an) all-around player as well,” Luvu said. “So for him to fill that role, he communicated, got the calls out, and we were ready to go.”
Grugier-Hill has an unquenchable passion for football that can be discerned from how much he’s willing to do, how many roles he has played on multiple teams, and how quickly he bonds with his teammates.
And he’ll say it in his own words, too, because playing gives him a feeling he can’t find in any other way.
“When you’re in a stadium full of people cheering for you, and the crowd’s roaring, I mean, it’s a feeling – I always tell my fiancé this, we’re getting married in February – I’m like, ‘I will never get this. Nothing will ever give me this feeling,'” Grugier-Hill said with a laugh. “And she’s always like, ‘Even when we’re married? Even when we have kids?’ And I’m like, I can’t see it.
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