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,

as well.

“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.”

NOTES, QUOTES

–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

time finishing.

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

Reggie Sullivan.

–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

Clausen.

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

made.”

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

there.