The Panthers have relied heavily on three rookies thus far in 2012. However, their highest expectations rest solely on the shoulders of their top choice.
Carolina’s ninth overall pick, linebacker Luke Kuechly is of course the team’s prized selection. Kuechly possesses a high level of awareness on the field, which fits perfectly with his skilled tackle making ability.
When Carolina drafted Kuechly and all but avoided the need of drafting a high caliber defensive tackle, the Panthers set the team on a path to have a dynamic line backing core.
Kuechly’s play does compliment the play of fellow linebackers Thomas Davis, James Anderson, and Jon Beason. Now, the Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera must find a way to get Kuechly out of his rookie shell. A perceived shell he came into the NFL with, mainly because he never played on the big stage at the college level.
Though, the selection of Kuechly might have been considered a reach by some, he is proving to be a viable starting linebacker for the Panthers, and for what the team needs right now, viable may not be good enough.
Does he put fear in opposing quarterbacks?
No, not yet at least. If Kuechly wants to be a feared linebacker then he needs to stir the pot. There is no time for Kuechly to be shy on the field. His 26 tackles so far are impressive, but he can do more.
The main stat that stands out on Kuechly’s rookie resume through the first quarter of the season is the number zero, as in zero sacks and zero forced fumbles.
Kuechly is a heads-up type player. He has the talent to be a productive linebacker in the NFL for a long time. His future is bright, but he needs to start playing more like Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who currently has fewer tackles than Kuechly, but has seven sacks to his name through four games. Matthews, like Kuechly, has a ferocious tackling ability. Matthews has found a way to utilize that ability when rushing the quarterback, a developed skill Kuechly still needs to add to his repertoire.
Of course the Panthers would love Kuechly to perform at the level of Green Bay’s Matthews, but maybe that’s not Kuechly’s style, or maybe it’s because he is just a rookie.
Robert Kester, Carolina Panthers Columnist. Follow @robertkester1.