"I don't know how it's all going to unfold, but I understand the draft pick," Beason said. "I understand the kid was off the charts. So you draft him and it makes your football team better. But there will be pressure on his shoulders too. He has to learn all three positions and we'll see how it works out."
Almost immediately following the selection of Kuechly the shock media appealing to the lunatic fringe went about casting aspersions at the selection. Mel Kiper called Kuechly 'the leader' of the Panthers' defense, completely ignoring Beason; while local radio chose to view the pick through the lens of finding Beast's 'replacement'.
Anyone know has spent one iota of time looking at the Panthers knows that nothing could be further from the truth. The plan was never to replace Beason, but rather bolster a unit that was left bereft of talent when Thomas Davis went down to injury again. The Chicago Bears' 4-3 defense under Rivera lived and died by their linebackers, and given the amount of in-season adjustments that were made to the position it was no wonder Coach Rivera wanted to upgrade the overall talent of the linebackers.
More after the jump
Looking over the roster, pencilling in depth chart and trying to project this team there's nothing more difficult than trying to work out who will get the lion's share of snaps at middle linebacker. The simple answer is that you keep Beason where he's always played- he continues at MLB and it becomes Kuechly's role to find his way into the rotation.
There's a second school of thought though, one that looks to mitigate mistakes at the cost over immediate impact. To this end Kuechly would play the MLB where he's most accustomed to, and where he'll be tested far less than at outside linebacker. Nobody is suggesting playing the middle is easy, but it would allow him to primarily play in a read and react role, rather than one where he's consistently challenged.
Much has been made about the QB talent in the NFC South, and it's significant- but there is as much overall ability at the TE position as any division in football. Jimmy Graham is one of the league's best, Tony Gonzalez looks like he'll never finish playing, and now with Dallas Clark in Tampa Bay they've added a less athletic, but far wilier receiver to the mix. Moreover, they are all astounding good route runners- a trait that make the life of an outside linebacker difficult, let alone a rookie. Should the plan be to charge Beason with this role, thankfully he doesn't have any qualms about it.
"If that happens [playing at OLB] I approach it the way I always have when asked to move from safety to fullback or fullback to linebacker, outside to inside or vice versa, I've kind of dealt with this situation my whole life. I look at myself as a true football player. I think I can go play offense, too."
In many ways Jon Beason is like Steve Smith- neither really care about their stats, or glory, but both want to feel involved and that they're making a difference. There is a misconception that Beason isn't a play-maker at OLB, but the fact is, having Luke Kuechly in the middle would be a lot different to having Dan Connor in the middle. When Beast moved outside in 2010 teams had no problem running straight at Connor, which in turn reduced Beason's statistics. However, with Kuechly you have a 'pick your poison' approach, where neither option is good for an offense.
Ultimately worrying about where Beason will play is secondary to just having him back, and there's no denying this defense is ten-times better when #52 is on the field.