Rookie Kuechly will begin at outside linebacker
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said first-round pick linebacker Luke Kuechly
would begin his career playing on the outside, but was careful to say
the decision was far from final.
How they’d deploy Kuechly along with incumbent linebackers Jon Beason
and Thomas Davis was the first question when the Panthers drafted at a
position that wasn’t the highest need, even though drafting
best-player-available was how they ended up with Beason to begin with.
The Panthers were still counting on Dan Morgan in the middle when a
trade-down in 2007 left them with Beason, and he started his rookie year
on the weak side as well. Morgan’s injury problems moved him to the
middle soon enough, and the injury uncertainty was part of the reason
Rivera was hedging his bets on the Kuechly positional question.
“We’ll start him on the outside, and then we’ll rotate him into the
inside,” Rivera said during the team’s rookie minicamp. “Jon will be on
the inside. I’ve talked with Jon about him playing inside and outside,
“It’s 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.”
Along with Kuechly, Beason and Davis, the Panthers also have strong-side
linebacker James Anderson coming off his best season. He broke Beason’s
single-season tackle record last year, though that was largely because
he was the last man standing to make tackles. Past those four, however,
the depth chart consists of mostly special teamers.
Handling the personalities will be as big a challenge as the Xs and Os for Rivera and coordinator Sean McDermott, however.
Beason likes being in charge, and has never hidden his feelings about
playing outside. He simply prefers being in the middle, saying it gives
him a better chance to impact the game. Coaches went to him this
offseason about the possibility of his playing outside, even before
Kuechly was drafted, just to get his opinion of the possibility.
But until he proves himself to be 100 percent recovered from last year’s
torn Achilles, having Kuechly ready to man the middle only makes sense.
Playing the rookie on the outside also covers them if Thomas Davis
isn’t able to come back from his third torn ACL. Last year’s defense
sagged substantially when Beason and Davis were lost in the first two
weeks of the season, rolling through numerous combinations beside the
serviceable Dan Connor (who signed with Dallas this offseason).
Rivera said he still expects Beason and Davis to be back this season,
but Kuechly serves as insurance against either not being ready.
“I’m pretty confident,” Rivera said of their recoveries. “I think based
on what I’ve seen, it’s just a matter of time before they’re 100 percent
and on the football field doing things that we need them to do.”
–The Panthers did quick business, signing their entire draft class
prior to rookie minicamp last weekend. They were the second team in the
league to finalize their draft business. Thanks to the rookie wage
scale, negotiations are all but obsolete, and the Panthers wasted no
Unlike past years, unsigned picks already count against the 90-man
roster limit, so there was no motivation to not go ahead and sign them.
–The Panthers had 32 tryout players in rookie minicamp, but the only
two roster moves made since were for players who weren’t there.
They signed tight end Joe Jon Finely and claimed running back Armond
Smith off waivers from Cleveland. Finley was on Detroit’s roster last
season, after spending two years on San Francisco’s practice squad and
one on Detroit’s.
Smith made the Browns’ opening week roster as an undrafted rookie from
Union (Ky.) College, but spent most of the year on the practice squad.
To make room for them on the roster, the Panthers released undrafted
rookie tight end Tarren Lloyd and former practice-squad cornerback
–The Panthers didn’t elect to keep either of the tryout quarterbacks
from rookie minicamp, Dalton Bell or Jarrett Brown. Bell had been with
the Panthers in training camp in 2007, and Brown had spent time on
practice squads in San Francisco and Indianapolis.
The Panthers might want another passer in camp, as they have just three
at the moment, with Cam Newton backed up by Derek Anderson and Jimmy
QUOTE TO NOTE
“It was a good three days for us. Now that we’ve gotten a good look at
these guys, we’ll take the next couple of days and evaluate. If we think
anybody will help us, we’ll sign them.” – General manager Marty Hurney,
on the rookie minicamp that featured 32 tryout players. They signed
none of them since.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Panthers believe fourth-rounder Joe Adams will make an immediate impact as a punt returner.
Any plays he makes on offense, however, will probably be down the line.
The Panthers drafted the SEC special teams player of the year to add
some sizzle to their punt returns, which ranked 30th in the league last
year at 5.5 yards per. In that job, Adams will replace third-year
receiver Armanti Edwards.
But it sounds like the Panthers aren’t expecting Adams to play much offense in the short term.
They’re well covered for starters with Steve Smith and the emerging
Brandon LaFell, and hope David Gettis comes back from a torn ACL to add
some size and speed to the lineup. Considering how much two-back and
two-tight end the Panthers use, that doesn’t leave much work for a
fourth or fifth receiver to begin with, and kick returner Kealoha
Pilares and Edwards are fighting for jobs alongside Seyi Ajirotutu and
Darvin Adams and a host of rookies.
“He caught pretty much everything that was punted to him,” Rivera said
of Adams. “One thing that you would like to see him do is work a little
bit more on his receiving abilities. Because once that ball is in his
hands, he is a dynamic player. We saw it a couple of times today. He
caught a couple of slants and quick ins over the middle, and there were
some really good things that caught your attention.
“If we can get the ball in his hands on the offensive side of the ball
with his ability to make people miss, you’ve got some plays that can be
Adams fumbled 11 times in college, and Rivera has shown that ball
security is a major issue. Former running back Mike Goodson made his way
into the doghouse and was eventually traded to Oakland because they
didn’t trust him after a rash of preseason fumbles. However, team
officials think most of Adams’ problems in that regard were on offense,
which lends more evidence that they want to bring him along slowly