CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Luke Kuechly spent most of his prolific college career chasing down anyone holding a football from the middle linebacker position.
He played some outside, but was mostly an iron-clad mainstay in the heart of Boston Colleges defense for three seasons. So when the Carolina Panthers selected him with the ninth overall pick in Aprils NFL draft, the question loomed that with Jon Beasons likely return to full health, could Kuechly see time on the edge, as Beason has made a nice living from the middle.
A day into minicamp and the answer was clear: Yes, Kuechly will play some on the outside.
Well start him on the outside and then well rotate him into the inside, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this weekend at Bank of America Stadium. Jon will be on the inside.
Rivera said Beason will also see time outside.
Ive talked with Jon about him playing inside and outside, as well, the second-year head coach said. Its going to be an interesting experiment as we go through this because, quite frankly, we want to make sure we put the best unit on the football field and the best combination of players.
Kuechly set NCAA records for tackles at BC, averaging 14 per game for his career and nearly 16 a game last fall. But his ability to make plays anywhere and at key times, plus that he can defend the pass made the decision a bit easier for Carolinas brass for him to begin on the outside.
Last fall, Kuechly was responsible for 59 of BCs 115 third-down stops. He re-routed and jammed receivers on 45 (38.5 percent) of 118 plays versus the pass, broke up six passes, snared three interceptions, forced a fumble and registered six quarterback hurries.
At 240, the kid ran a 4.58, Rivera said. So, at that, thats outstanding. Whether hes playing Sam, Mike or Will, with that kind of ability to run, Im not concerned with that.
Kuechly signed a four-year, 12.58 million contract last Thursday and came into minicamp raring to go. His confidence is unyielding, and for good reason. Hes as proven a linebacker as there was in the draft.
Beason tore his ACL in the season-opening loss at Arizona last September and missed the remainder of the campaign. Prior to last season, he had been the Panthers defensive anchor, registering 417 tackles in four seasons. Beason also has eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries in his career.
Kuechly also doesnt care much where the Panthers put him. Hes said all of the right things about Beason, showing respect for the former All-Pro. The two have already spoken a couple of times, as well, and it appears everyone is on the same page.
I think the biggest thing with me is I just love playing football, Kuechly said. Its something thats been a top priority since I started playing and I love playing football. I love the mental aspect of the game. I love preparing for the game. I think its just something Ive been doing for a while and something I think I really enjoy doing.
In other words, the kid just wants to play. Inside, outside, it doesnt matter, though Kuechly expects to go through an adjustment period, as the positions are a tad different in the NFL than in college.
Youve got to adjust on the fly, he said. Youve got to learn two different positions. Theyre kind of the same in some aspects, and theyre kind of different, too.
Playing with a group of veterans will make the adjustment period easier, Kuechly said.
Those guys have played for a bunch of years, he said. They know whats good. They know whats bad Im sure theyve got all kinds of knowledge they can help me out with.
Including playing on the outside in the NFL.