He could not have played a whole lot better than he did as a freshman. It's not fair to expect any freshman to, no matter how highly regarded. But that's not to say that Shaq Thompson has peaked, or even that he's performing anywhere near where his potential says he could. The sky truly is the limit.
But as a freshman his role was mostly pretty simple and straightforward. He was the team's starting "nickel" which is a football way of saying he was the field linebacker, which is a fancy way of saying he was the team's best linebacker in coverage. However, in addition to being the team's best covering linebacker, if there were a way to quantify it, I'm sure we'd find that he's also probably the team's best blitzing 'backer and the team's best run stuffing 'backer. This is no slight to John Timu and Travis Feeney -- they're both very good players and integral members of what may be the best linebacking corps in the conference -- just a testament to how much talent Thompson has.
When you have a player as multi-talented as Shaq is, you have to find ways to put him in a position to succeed. As a freshman he spent nearly every play on the field side of the formation, and played what looked like fairly simple assignments: contain and flat coverage in cover 3, dropping into a zone in cover 2, and some man to man mixed in. There were other things, sure, but that was the vast majority. And it served him well. He made plays, executed his assignments and was an anchor in a much improved defense. But he can do more.
Now that he has a year of college football under his belt, a year in Justin Wilcox's schemes and a year with Peter Sirmon's tutelage he should be much more prepared to truly dominate and take over games. Expect to see him moved around a lot more. Coming off of the edge and making offensive tackles look silly trying to match quickness with him. Moving inside and blowing up a guard on the snap of the ball. Dropping into deep coverage and ballhawking. Coming as a zone blitzer as Josh Shirley drops into coverage. If enough talent emerges in the secondary, why not line him up as a speed rusher on passing downs? The possibilities are endless.
I'm not sure there's a position on the defense he couldn't line up and play, and guys like this don't come around often. Justin Wilcox is a smart man, and he'll take advantage of Shaq's talents. Opposing quarterbacks should have nightmares about accounting for where he'll be and what he'll do once the ball is snapped.