Player Spotlight: LB AJ Klein

Lance King

In honor of how many days we are away from opening the regular season, we will take a look at #56, one of the Panthers' newest members.

I like the number 56.

If you read my series opener spotlighting Jordan Senn, you might recall that one of the reasons the number 57 has special significance to me is because my mother was born that year. If my math is right, then that would presently put her at the ripe old age of 56.

56 is the atomic number of barium, which is one of the components of high temperature super-conductors and electroceramics. It is also added to steel and cast iron to reduce the size of carbon grains within the micro-structure of the metal, or something like that.

It is also the code for international direct-dial phone calls to Chile, which just happens to be the only country I've set foot on other than the United States.

For baseball enthusiasts, you'll probably recall that 56 is the revered record-setting number of consecutive days that Joe DiMaggio had at list one base hit in 1941, which is still a record to this day.

Did you know that a Japanese man had a son at the age of 56, and subsequently named him Isoroku, which is an old Japanese term meaning 56?

Fifty-six is the name of a town in Arkansas.

Did you know that there were 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776?

Before the combine, many scouts would have just praised AJ Klein for his motor and instincts, without even considering the possibility that his eye-popping statistics might also be attributed to above-average athleticism.

Consider this: The 6'1", 250lb Klein ultimately ran a 4.66 forty in Indianapolis, which was significantly better than OLB Gerald Hodges, who carried seven less pounds at the same height. Klein also bested Hodges, who the Panthers heavily scouted, in the 3 cone drill and 10 yard split. Surprisingly, Hodges was still taken a round earlier than Klein despite less athleticism and similar college production.

Perhaps the Panthers didn't blink when they handed over their draft card in the 5th round in part because of how spectacularly well another inside linebacker selection turned out a year earlier.

Before Luke Kuechly tested well above what anyone expected at the combine, he was being viewed in much the same way as Klein. The scouting community quotes were nearly identical: Hard working and instinctual. When used alone, these are code words which often suggest that a prospect is actually thought to be a below average athlete. Boy did he prove them wrong -- both at the combine and in his first season with the Panthers.

Is Klein a Kuechly clone? Not exactly. But, I believe he will pay immediate dividends on special teams and in a back-up role. From a long-term perspective, Klein has the tools to earn a starting spot, and if early reports from mini-camp are any indication of what we can expect from number 56 going forward, then we will surely find out sooner than later how difficult it will be to keep this defensive play-maker off the field.

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