Panthers continue to ‘investigate’ how they’ll use WR Laviska Shenault in new offense

Laviska Shenault’s NFL career has been anything but static.

The 2020 second-round pick has worked with seven different head coaches — including two interim head coaches — at the midway point of his fourth NFL offseason program. While he’s been billed as a wide receiver since entering the league, his unique skill set has often led to him lining up in the backfield for the occasional play. And his playing time, at least over the past two years, has been as inconsistent as the coaches who have hosted his team meetings.

But as Shenault, 24, enters the final year of his rookie contract, he’s received yet another blank slate — this time with Panthers head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson in charge. That trio is looking for ways to use Shenault and his rare traits.

“It’ll be interesting,” Reich said Thursday. “I think Laviska has been one of those guys out here who has looked good. We’ll continue to investigate the different roles he can play. Obviously, even if we had this grandiose plan, which maybe we do (laughs), I wouldn’t reveal that here and now, all the ways you can use him.”

Shenault, listed as 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, spent most of last season behind the line of scrimmage after being acquired by the Panthers in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars before Week 1.

Under former head coach Matt Rhule and former interim head coach Steve Wilks, Shenault was mostly used as a decoy player, running in pre-snap motion to decipher opposing defense’s coverage responsibilities. Shenault rarely ran routes beyond the line of scrimmage, but produced two big flash plays for touchdowns in his limited role.

Shenault finished with 36 touches for 337 total yards and two total touchdowns. His 2022 touches and all-purpose yards were easily the worst marks of his career.

But with Reich, a clever offensive mind, and Brown, an up-and-coming play-designer, in charge of the offensive playbook, Shenault could be in line for a more substantial role this season.

Adam Thielen, Terrace Marshall, DJ Chark and second-round pick Jonathan Mingo are probably higher on the receiver depth chart, but Shenault’s versatility could help him get on the field more often this year. Because of his bigger frame, he can line up in the backfield — as opposed to working on the boundary or in the slot — and offer the threat of a run or a trick play.

“You look at guys like (San Francisco 49ers wideout) Deebo Samuel . . . and you say, ‘Can Laviska do some of that (dual threat) stuff?’ Of course he can,” Reich said. “So, we’ll experiment with some of that stuff, and some of it will get incorporated and some of it won’t.”

While Reich remains tip-lipped about Shenault’s role this season, the head coach has voluntarily brought him up during multiple press conferences this offseason. Given his versatility and experience, he could have a leg up on his competition for a roster spot.

As the Panthers explore their options on offense, the more Shenault can do, the better his standing will be on the depth chart. Ultimately, Shenault’s role will come down to his performance in training camp and the preseason, and Reich and Brown’s creativity with the offense.