Kuechly entered the organization with a tough task. A standout middle linebacker, he was asked to change position, and had the unenviable duty of being regarded as 'the future' with Jon Beason still on the roster. He said the right things early on. Kuechly talked about earning his way, finding a place in the locker room, and contributing how he could -- but he suppressed his leadership qualities as he took a back seat to seniority.
That all changed when Beason was lost for the season. There was a void in the center of the field, but more importantly a hole in the Panthers defensive leadership. Despite being the youngest player on the roster, and still trying to find his way -- Kuechly stepped up, took over the team, and earned that lofty award.
The 2013 season is months away, and while there are only a few practices in the books -- Kuechly is already getting the attention of people inside the organization.
Smith on Luke Kuechly: "He is a student of the game...He is taking over that defense, he is composing that defense which is neat to see."— The Drive (@thedrivenc) May 23, 2013
Smith on Luke Kuechly: "He is really becoming the quarterback of the defense."— The Drive (@thedrivenc) May 23, 2013
To get this kind of praise from Smitty is rare, especially for a young player. He's always been extremely hard on rookies, wanting them to earn their place in the locker room, and chiding them regularly for not working as hard as they should. While he's not playing on the same side of the ball, he is noticing how the young linebacker is changing the team.
The praise didn't end with Smith, as Ron Rivera joined in on the love-fest.
Rivera on Kuechly - whoever coached Kuechly before he got here deserves Kudos, did a hell of a job, Luke also deserves a lot of credit— Bobby Rosinski (@BobbyRosinski) May 23, 2013
Linebacker isn't as sexy as quarterback, but we're seeing the same transformative effect that Cam Newton had on the organization in 2011. The leap in offensive production made Cam's effect more pronounced, but it's equally impressive. The team sees this too, as they tailored the draft to make his life more easy -- adding two hog mollies to give him some help up front, and prevent as many runners hitting the second level.
Watching Panthers practice here at OTA's. Guy wearing 59 is already the leader of the defense. Always working. Always.— Taylor Zarzour (@TaylorZRadio) May 23, 2013
It will be fun to see the players in pads when they hit Spartanburg, and we get a chance to see how Kuechly is leading the team along with his new defensive tackles. In a year where both Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher hung up their cleats, Kuechly is ready to put in the work to hopefully have his name in that conversation.
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